Child directed play in Singapore: how to encourage creativity and learning through free play

Get back to basics and let children play - their way. Bring your kids along to Chapter Zero's pop-up adventure playground at Tanderra for some wild and free fun!
Parents, it’s all about child-directed play right now. Here’s why we should let children explore, imagine and problem solve through play – and stay out of it! A pop-up adventure playground is just the place to start...

Singapore is one of the best places in the world to keep children entertained: between all the indoor playgrounds, outdoor activities and cultural attractions, you’re never short of things to do with kids. But with so much to keep us occupied and enriched, sometimes we need to wind it back a notch and just let the children play. Without guiding them. Because, when it comes to raising imaginative, creative children, one of the golden rules is – to put it bluntly – butt out. Want to let the kids loose and enjoy some really free play? Chapter Zero is hosting a series of pop-up adventure playgrounds for kids, and the next one is on the lovely grounds of Tanderra on Saturday 22 October. Read on, then sit back and let the kids play. Their way…

What do you mean stay out of it?

In the world of parenting and education it’s hard to keep up with what’s in and what’s out, what’s hot and what’s not. Play-based pre-schools and wooden toys are so hot right now, flash cards and complex electronics are so not right now.

Always on the lookout for the latest trend, lately we’ve heard talk of child-directed play. ‘Play’ on its own we feel we have a handle on, but ‘child-directed’ play? Sounds fancy if not a little crunchy-granola-boho. Don’t children simply play? Well, it turns out there are ways to play, and child-directed play is where it’s at right now. As an example here are two scenarios:

1. A parent hands a child a toy car and a doll, the child pops the car into a bowl and mops the floor with the doll. The parent thinks, ‘Yikes!’ and shows the child that the car goes vroom vroom, and rocks the doll saying “gently, gently”, all with good intention. However, see what’s happened there? The adult has directed the child’s play and unwittingly told them that they don’t know how to play. The question here is who are we to say that a car is not a meatball and that a doll is not a mop?

2. Now Imagine that the same child picks up a wooden spoon. Suddenly it’s a dragon-slayer, a paddle for her imaginary canoe, an orchestra baton and an aeroplane. The parent just lets her be – it’s a wooden spoon, who cares? This, basically, is the essence of child-directed play.

In the first example the child’s play has been interfered with and directed by the adult; in the second example the adult lets the child be. In the case of a wooden spoon versus many store-bought toys, the spoon is considered an ‘open-ended’ object – an important part of child-directed play. If a toy has no prescribed purpose, there is no right nor wrong way to play, the child makes the rules. The advantage, therefore, with child-directed play is that it’s impossible to ‘fail’ at play.

It's the simplest things that can fuel a child's imagination for hours: Chapter Zero's pop-up adventure playgrounds provide the perfect environment for child-led play.

It’s the simplest things that can fuel a child’s imagination for hours: Chapter Zero’s pop-up adventure playgrounds provide the perfect environment for child-led play. Photography: Ilona Tar.

Not ready to replace the $300 toy space simulator with a cardboard box? Chapter Zero is to bringing its third Pop-Up Adventure Playground to Singapore. As the queens of turning household bits ‘n bobs into objects of endless play, they hold free monthly events: the next child-directed play session is on Saturday 22 of October at Tanderra. These fun-filled afternoons are ideal for little ones who can walk, and all ages up – parents, you’re welcome to play too! Details below are below: come along to find out more and marvel at how your kids can play for hours with household junk!

A little guidance (on not giving guidance)
If you’re keen to practise some child-directed play in your own home or playgroup here are some guiding tips from Anna Housley Juster of Pop-Up Adventure Play in the UK:

Make sure your child has down time every day, with no adult-directed activities: no swim lessons, no music lessons, no organised sport, just pure play time! Let them know that it’s okay to just play!

The best part about child-directed play is you don’t need any fancy toys or equipment: just simple, everyday materials that children can change and use as they please. Think cardboard boxes, plastic tubs, an old suitcase, paper towel tubes, crayons… add some glue and some tape, and the kids will do the rest. Children should be provided with objects and materials that challenge and stimulate – this isn’t about asking your child to play quietly in a corner on their own with a piece of tin foil.

Children need a safe place to play and get messy! A designated area or a simple sheet on the floor allows them to use their glue, crayons and cardboard to create a world of fantasy without getting in trouble for making a mess.

Children are experts in their own play. Simply by watching and listening we show our support, and we’re happy to join in if invited to without taking over their play. If children ask for help, we can lend a hand! We also allow them the time and space to work out their emotions but this is not Lord of the Flies – we’re there to guide them through big feelings of anger and frustration so that nobody gets hurt, especially in social situations!

When we stop interrupting and directing our children’s play, they soon revert to their natural form: that of the inventor, the scientist and the explorer. This is both beneficial for their self-confidence, development and education. So sit back with your latte and give yourself permission to just let the children play.

What: Pop-up Adventure Playground hosted by Tanderra
Saturday 22nd October, 4-7pm 
Tanderra Woods, Block 73 Loewen Road
Singapore, 248843
Admission: FREE!

Tanderra is Singapore’s boutique family members’ club located in Dempsey,
near Orchard. If you have been curious to see inside Tanderra and its newly renovated play ateliers, tranquil café and playground, this is your chance, as group tours will take place on the hour, the first being 4pm. All participants who take a tour will be entitled to a free one-week trial at Tanderra (valued at $100).

Alternatively, if you would like to guarantee a personalised tour on the day, please book a tour in advance by contacting

Photography (top image): courtesy of Chapter Zero