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When I was a child, with 2 other sisters both close in age to me, my young parents relied on their parents, for some respite from the intensity of parenting.

So, from an early age, for example, each of us got to take turns, going to my mother’s parents for a weekend visit.

I don’t know how much that reduced my parents’ stress levels.  But for me, it was a magical journey into time with my adored Grammy.  How I looked forward to those luscious adventures!

I got to sleep in her bed with her, cuddled up next to her warm soft body… I got to bake yummy treats with her… go on shopping expeditions, and… best of all… was the delicious opportunity to explore in Her Drawer.

My Grammy’s drawer was the middle drawer of an old walnut roll-top type desk.  And in it?  Well, the beauty was – I never knew what to expect, rummaging through it.  It had, at various stages, bits of yarn… a bag of old mismatched buttons… paper for drawing… string… pick-up sticks, crayons (and later pencil crayons)… a deck of cards (when I was older)… dominos… and various and sundry other (age appropriate) bits and bobs, over time.

The contents of that drawer provided me with many hours of creative play – all by myself.  When I was a bit older, I remember using the paper, colored pencils and (children’s) scissors to create a whole collection of paper dolls, with elaborate costumes.  My grandmother would ooh and ahh over my creative efforts, and proclaim that one day maybe I’d be a fashion designer!

I reveled in the praise, and the chance to be seen by myself, for who I was… rather than always having to compete for attention with my older and younger sisters.

Not having to share with my sisters was a luxury – it made sharing a bit easier when I returned home, knowing there’d be more of these precious times that were just for me.

How can you use this story to create similar rich play experiences for your child?  And why is it important?

Neuro-science shows us that this kind of undirected, creative play encourages the development of brain cells, increases creativity and imagination, and helps children engage with their own rich, inner world.

Young children learn with all their senses – it’s important to ensure they have access to multi-sensory items and experiences…

In these times of computer, tech toys, and scheduled structured activities, individual creative “free play” becomes an important part of supporting your child’s neurological and developmental health.

A “grandmother’s drawer” can be part of this… and it’s easy.  You can choose a drawer in your house, or create a treasure box or bin for the purpose.   Help your child decorate the box, if desired.

Go for walks in nature and have your child collect items s/he finds…

Nature walks with toddlers and preschoolers

Remember to add some (age appropriate, re: safety) surprises in there, from time to time, to keep the experience fresh and new, as well as reassuringly routine.

Nature walks with toddlers and preschoolers

Provide some time for your child to engage with what’s in there… on his or her own.  And then review with them what they’ve done.  Validate their outer expression of their inner life – it’s the first step to their developing a positive sense of self, of solid, good self-esteem.

Give messages that encourage their exploring the world with all their senses, both on Nature walks, and in their free play.  And know it’s an important gift you’re giving them – the chance to help their brain develop its creative potential… and for them to develop a strong sense of who they are in the world, both on their own, and in interactions with others.


Deb Svanefelt, B.A., M.S.W. has been a child and family therapist for over 30 years.  Her passion for working with “littles” and their “bigs” living in highly stressful circumstances, has gifted her with an education about how we develop as human beings – psychologically, emotionally and neurologically – throughout our lives… And with a profound respect for the resilience of the human being, in the face of overwhelming stress and challenge.  She firmly believes one of the biggest resiliency factors is the capacity to have fun.