Sunday, September 16, 2012
"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." - Mr. Rogers
Someone recently asked me what the kids do at our weekly homeschool park days and playgroups where we gather together with other homeschooling families. Is there someone who leads a lesson each week? Do you have the kids do activities? What kind of learning takes place? The kids just play, I responded. Just play? this person asked, growing more skeptical.
Yes, just play. We grown-ups get out of their way and let the kids just play. And as we do, they learn so much more than we could ever teach them. They learn how to make new friends and involve others in their play. They learn to collaborate and create together, conjuring elaborate play scenes with descriptive characters. (Last week's involved crocodiles and kings.) They learn how to lead and how to follow, how to suggest and how to listen, how to negotiate and how to compromise. They learn frustration and disappointment, as well as success and reward. They learn how to use and transform natural materials from their vast play space into tools that augment their play. They learn by play.
Our learning "classroom" looks so different from the traditional ways in which children learn that it may understandably cause confusion and skepticism. But mounting research on the value of play-based learning for children reinforces what we homeschoolers already know: play is the work of children. The New York Times has reported over the past couple of years on the growing research on play-based learning as an antidote to the often over-scheduled, technology-driven lives of children, stating in this popular article: "Children learn to control their impulses through games like Simon Says, play advocates believe, and they learn to solve problems, negotiate, think creatively and work as a team when they dig together in a sandbox or build a fort with sofa cushions."
One of the most outspoken advocates for open, unstructured, free-play is Free-Range Kids author, Lenore Skenazy. She gained greater attention this week regarding her post about "charging" parents to let their kids roam unsupervised in Central Park. "I'm always trying to figure out ways to get kids back outside playing with each other," Skenazy said in a recent interview regarding her provocative blog post.
Getting my kids outside, immersed in free, unstructured play with others, building relationships, negotiating group dynamics, collaborating on creative projects, deepening their imaginations--these are important priorities in our homeschooling week. Even if it is just play.