Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Give childhood back to children

I did not write the article included below. It was a piece written by a British Man. You can read the piece as it was originally written by clicking here.  As I have been very open about, JB and I are planning to homeschool the boys next year. I actually homeschooled them (informally) for preschool last year. This year, however, they will technically start kindergarten. I have registered them with a Christian homeschool program one town over (a requirement in the state of Tennessee) and we have actually already started homeschooling. (I have decided, for now, to homeschool year round and therefore lessen the amount of time per day that I have to do.)

If you click here you can read a Homeschooling Q & A that I wrote a few months ago -- discussing the reasons JB and I decided that this was a good fit for us. In this past blog, I outline why we are going this route. However, a HUGE reason is that we simply we feel we can accomplish what a school can accomplish in WAY less time -- thus giving our children more time to be children. 

I think this piece by Peter Gray does a great job echoing how we feel about kids needing more time ... to be kids.


I’m writing, here, in response to the news that the independent School Teachers Review Body is due to report back this week to Michael Gove on his plan to make school days longer and holidays shorter. The Education Secretary’s hope is that more hours in school will raise test scores in the UK to the level of those in China, Singapore and other East Asian nations. Paradoxically, Gove’s proposal has appeared just a few months after the Chinese ministry of education issued a report – entitled Ten Regulations to Lessen Academic Burden for Primary School Students – calling for less time in school, less homework and less reliance on test scores as a means of evaluating schools.

The most important skills that children everywhere must learn in order to live happy, productive, moral lives are skills that cannot be taught in school. Such skills cannot be taught at all. They are learned and practised by children in play. These include the abilities to think creatively, to get along with other people and cooperate effectively, and to control their own impulses and emotions.

All young children are creative. In their play and self-directed exploration they create their own mental models of the world around them and also models of imaginary worlds. Adults whom we call geniuses are those who somehow retain and build upon that childlike capacity throughout their lives. Albert Einstein said his schooling almost destroyed his interest in mathematics and physics, but he recovered it when he left school. He referred to his innovative work as “combinatorial play”. He claimed that he developed his concept of relativity by imagining himself chasing a sunbeam and catching up with it, and then thinking about the consequences. We can’t teach creativity, but we can drive it out of people through schooling that centres not on children’s own questions but on questions dictated by an imposed curriculum that operates as if all questions have one right answer and everyone must learn the same things.

Even more important than creativity is the capacity to get along with other people, to care about them and to co-operate effectively with them. Children everywhere are born with a strong drive to play with other children and such play is the means by which they acquire social skills and practise fairness and morality. Play, by definition, is voluntary, which means that players are always free to quit. If you can’t quit, it’s not play. All players know that, and so they know that to keep the game going, they must keep the other players happy. The power to quit is what makes play the most democratic of all activities. When players disagree about how to play, they must negotiate their differences and arrive at compromises. Each player must recognise the capacities and desires of the others, so as not to hurt or offend them in ways that will lead them to quit. Failure to do so would end the game and leave the offender alone, which is powerful punishment for not attending to the others’ wishes and needs. The most fundamental social skill is the ability to get into other people’s minds, to see the world from their point of view. Without that, you can’t have a happy marriage, or good friends, or co-operative work partners. Children practise that skill continuously in their social play.
Play is also a means by which children (and other young mammals) learn to control fear. Young mammals of many species play in ways that look dangerous. Goat kids romp along the edges of cliffs; young monkeys chase one another from branch to branch in trees, high enough up that a fall would hurt; and young chimpanzees play a game of dropping from high up and then catching themselves on a lower branch just before they hit the ground. Young humans also play in such ways when free to do so. Why? Apparently, the slight risks involved are outweighed by gains. They are dosing themselves with the maximum levels of fear that they can tolerate without panicking, and they are learning to control their bodies in the face of that fear – an ability that may one day save their lives.

In play, children also learn how to control their impulses and follow rules. All play – even the wildest-looking varieties – has rules. A play-fight, for example, differs from a real fight in that the former has rules and the latter doesn’t. In the play-fight you cannot kick, bite, scratch, or really hurt the other person; and if you are the larger and stronger of the two, you must take special care to protect the other from harm. While the goal of a real fight is to end it by driving the other into submission, the goal of a play-fight is to prolong it by keeping the other happy. In sociodramatic play – the kind of imaginary play exemplified by young children’s games of “house” or pretending to be superheroes – the primary rule is that you must stay in character. If you are the pet dog, you must bark instead of talk and you move around on all fours no matter how uncomfortable that might be. If you are Wonder Woman and you and your playmates believe that Wonder Woman never cries, you must refrain from crying if you fall and hurt yourself. The art of being a human being is the art of controlling impulses and behaving in accordance with social expectations.

Children also play in ways that elicit anger. One youngster may accidentally hurt another in the rough and tumble, or negotiations about the rules of a game may fail, or teasing that was at first in fun may go too far. But for the fun to continue, the anger must be controlled. To keep the game going in such situations, the players must react assertively, to stop the offending behaviour, without physically attacking or throwing a tantrum, either of which would bring play to an end. In this way, children learn to control their anger.
No, our children don’t need more school. They need more play. If we care about our children and future generations, we must reverse the horrid trend that has been occurring over the past half century. We must give childhood back to children. Children must be allowed to follow their inborn drives to play and explore, so that they can grow into intellectually, socially, emotionally and physically strong and resilient adults. The Chinese are finally beginning to realise this, and so should we.


Dana Taylor said...

Here in Canada we recently revised the kindergarten curriculum to a play-based emergent format that encourages all of the things described in this article. As a recent graduate of teacher's college who hopes to one day teach this age group it is so refreshing to see that we are finally waking up to the importance of play for children. Play IS learning, important learning at that, and I hope that in the not-so-distant future more people will come to realize that.

Anonymous said...

Amen...and we homeschool as well. I had a friend who's hubby was a pilot. His favorite thing to do when people acted all appaled at someone so educated choosing to homeschool: assume a goofy slow accent and say, "Sure, we do the homeschoolin. Our boys can count and read! Ain't that enough?"

Anonymous said...

We homeschooled our daughters two years ago. I mourned the "lost" year of kindergarten my younger child had experienced the year before homeschooling-she was in a multilevel class with kindergarten through second grade students-mistake. She had no play in school-just sit at your desk all day and do worksheets. Ironically, she requested to go back to school after the year of homeschooling-back we went. (My kids missed other kids-that manifested in her request to go back.) It's still not ideal, but my husband and I do backfill and regularly examine what they are learning in school (private, Christian, but not guaranteed to jive with our beliefs in every respect). As they are both musically inclined, we hope for youth orchestra opportunities in the future, but know that in our state, they are limited to public school children (homeschool and private school children need not apply).
Year round sounds like a good approach-one "Charlotte Mason" mom in the our homeschool soccer group did a three weeks on one off schedule that included I think five weeks off for summer-totally workable.
I miss homeschooling-this summer we are doing the 3 R's, which includes starting with Psalm 46 memorization, read aloud time with follow-up comprehension questions, writing out either vocab that is new from the reading, or writing specific thoughts about what has been read, and finish off with math.

Momma, PhD said...

Just read this the other day, maybe you've already seen it: