Ideation is described as the first stage of motor planning. It is the ability to generate an idea of how one might interact with an object or the environment. The “what am I going to do?”. Children with poor ideation skills generally have very limited play skills and are often dependent on adult intervention and passive pursuits (TV, Videos, computer, video games). They may wander the room briefly picking up objects, manipulate the object, but literally have no ideas how to play with it. Parents tell me that their child will watch them play with the toys, but seem at a loss when left on their own. Parents say: ‘He has so many toys, but doesn’t really play with any of them.’ Older children demonstrate poor problem solving skills. Ideation is a cognitive process believed to be largely dependent upon the brain’s ability to respond properly to sensory input.
I have an 11 month old grandson and recently had the opportunity to observe his ideation with two rather non-descript items. The first was an 8″ square of stiff plastic. For 30 minutes, he played with this piece of plastic. He crumpled it to make noise; he looked through it; he put it on top of his head; he laid on his back and used both his hands and feet to play with it; he put it on top of his head; he dropped it over his head and then turned around to see where it had landed; he waved it up and down. This piece of plastic entertained him far longer than any of his toys ever had.
We had a similar experience at the Museum of Life and Science. They currently have a large room with multiple stations for building with Kapla Blocks. Five bins with blocks were lined up on the floor. He crawled through the five bins (on top of the blocks). He sat in a bin at one end. He picked up blocks and put them on the floor and into the bin he was sitting in. He banged two blocks together. He handed them to me. He tried to hold several at one time. He moved to the middle bin. He transferred blocks from the bin to his left side to the bin on his right side. He wiggled his feet in the blocks. He leaned backwards, seeing how far backward he could go. He scouted up and sat on the edge of the bin.
For me it was a great lesson in how early ideation develops. And a reaffirmation that the best toys are often the simplest. So take a look at your child’s play. Challenge them. What can they do if you reduce the quantity of their toys. Children today tend to be inundated with toys and the overwhelming quantity can squelch ideation, creativity and play. Consider only having 10 toys available at any given time (pack the others away and create a rotating schedule for bringing them out). By the way, blocks count as one toy.
Make sure that your child has some of the classic toys, popular before the age of electronics and computers. Blocks, legos, card board boxes, ball, doll with clothes, wagon, cards, sand, water, play dough, etc. Make sure your child has the time and space to develop these play skills. If they are ‘bored’, a little boredom is just fine, that’s where creativity springs from. If they are struggling, sit and play with them, modeling, prompting. If they are really stuck they probably need occupational therapy and the therapist working with your child can help with strategies for developing ideation.