Do we allow self-directed learning (aka free play) in our homeschools?
More importantly, do we recognize that free play is actually learning?
Cause you and I both know that if we can understand whether our children are actually learning while they’re playing, we are just fine with them playing a whole lot more and we’re less inclined to sit them down at the table to pull out worksheets for a couple hours.
Why? Cause it’s easier.
Also, cause it seems to be working.
They’re playing AND learning at the same time.
Why didn’t anyone tell us how easy this could be?
Well I’m telling you now.
But I think there’s a few reasons. One might be the prevalance of pre-fabricated toys.
Do you need toys to play and learn?
Four year old Zach and I had an entire week alone. The three girls were at their activities during the day, so we found our way to a beach, a waterpark, and a playground for at least half an hour a day.
Bring a single child, or a flock of four, to a beach or waterpark, and there’s some pretty creative stuff happening. Gullies and castles are built. Kids are playfully buried in the sand. There are water somersault contests.
Left to their own device, kids do creative stuff.
There was a time, one daughter would spend hours in the summer building clay bricks in the backyard. Perhaps it was the new soil that intrigued her. Maybe it was her way of carving quiet time away from siblings. I don’t know. But she poured water, smashed earth together and formed clay bricks, over and over and over, until it looked like the Egyptians had returned.
Take my son to the beach after an errand, without beach toys, just a simple blue and white fish net, and he finds stuff to do. He builds sandcastles too. He fishes for tadpoles. He sifts the river.
How valuable are toys?
The notion that kids need a lot of toys might be fed by Mattel, Fischer Price, or the Sears Christmas Wish catalogue. It might be fed by the notion that we want to give our kids the very best play.
You’ll find a well-procured miniature Toys R Us in our kids’ rooms and playroom too, so I won’t boast of about my counter-cultural ways.
But children don’t need purchaseable toys to play. Their imagination can turn a stick and ribbon into a bow and arrow. They can turn mud into a clay hut. They running water, gravel, sticks, and pinecones into an imaginary world.
Toys are useful, but not necessary.
Left to their own device, children learn in their play.
Ever heard a question like “Hey mom, why do flamingos perch on one leg?” or any other random question kids ask? What do you do with those questions? You research. Grab your phone or the DK Science Encyclopedia and you find out. This is learning.
If a child spends all morning trying to make a catapult out of his own Legos and Knex, is he playing or learning? Um, both.
Left to their own devices, children learn in their play.