“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” ~Fred Rogers
I’m not sure how it happened, but I have gone against what I know and believe about my children’s schedules: Less is more. Less structure, planned activities, and classes and more unstructured, free play filled days. But here we are two weeks into the new year, the new semester (so to speak) and I have over done it. Sometimes living in a bustling urban area with so many resources and happenings going on can work against you, I suppose. There were just so many fun classes and group gatherings happening, before I knew it, I filled up our calendar. It’s all good things and overall Big Brother is loving every class and group, but our free time is not as plentiful as I would like. Between art, drumming, gymnastics, and science class, plus our regular Waldorf group and a new homeschool group….there is now not a single day from Monday-Saturday that we’re not doing something!
It all hit me this week as we finished one activity and were getting ready to head over to a friend’s house to play, Big Brother said to me, “I just can’t go, Mama. You’re planning too much. I need time at home to play.” It stopped me in my tracks and I didn’t even try to argue. How can you? He’s so incredibly happy getting lost in his world of imagination at home, often with his brother. Imagining worlds of fantasy, making up games, creating art, listening to music, and reading books. That’s his happy place. I somehow forgot to schedule time for that important piece of his life. The good news is, even though we have busy days planned, each day is usually only taken up by structure for half of the day or maybe even a few hours, leaving us with time to make room for unstructure each day. I just have to be mindful of not filling those free hours further.
Lately whenever someone asks me how our homeschooling is going, my initial response is Great! which is true, but every time it makes me really stop and think for a minute or two about our journey and what it really looks like these days. There is no set curriculum I am following. There’s no lesson time in our world or sitting at the kitchen table pouring over academics. I have no greater agenda for my 5 1/2 year old other than for him to have as much time to play and explore as he can with a mixture of enjoying a few classes that spark his interest and intrigue him with new ideas. I’m excited for him to learn to read, but I’m not pushing it, and his interest in it ebbs and flows. I’m not at all interested in drilling number facts, yet he is often using maths skills in everyday life. I spend minimal time making sure his letter formations and writing is just right, yet he enjoys writing in many forms from making cards to labeling things. Frankly, there are very few areas of academics that I set out to introduce or teach to him, but somehow in our everyday life, so many things arise that become teachable moments. And this is okay with me. For now, I feel it is how it should be.
There’s a lot of buzz and countless articles about the importance of children’s free play. Some say that our education system has waged a war on childhood by robbing our young ones of that precious time to just play by forcing test taking skills and a push for academic drills before they are ready. Countries such as Finland and Sweden delay the start of school until children are 7 years old and are reported to have better academic achievement and child well-being. These are facts I try to keep in the forefront of my mind when I start to feel doubt about our path of play. His play is such important work and the skills he is gaining through that are all he needs. So, play on!