Education and Play
© Gareth Lewis
One of the features of schools is that they try to teach children things long before they could possibly have any interest in them, with the result that by the time they are old enough be interested in the idea of education, they have already been put off it.
Up to their early or mid teens children have all sorts of things to learn and absorb from their immediate environment which are of far more pressing importance than any form of intellectual knowledge. If parents and teachers try to make them understand the theory of gravity, the name of the Prime Minister, the advantages of a democratic government, who was King of England five hundred years ago, the difference between acids and alkalis, the periodic table, why x + x = 2x, or any other piece of information that is separate from their own lives, the only result is confusion - because they simply have no framework of understanding within which to fit such ideas and information. This only changes when the young person themselves starts to take a spontaneous interest in what happened in the past, why the world is the way it is, who is responsible for all the scientific theories, and why we believe some things to be true and not others.
This doesn't mean that you shouldn't read books, write stories, conduct lessons, etc. with younger children, but it means that you should try to remember that for younger children, playing is much more important than education, and that any educational work that you do with them is really a form of playing. Children's games encompass every area of life from pretending to drive a car to pretending to be a doctor: just as you would not award a driving licence on the strength of how well a child drives a toy car, or a medical degree on the strength of how well a child cares for a doll, no particular significance should be placed upon the 'work' that they do in lessons. The purpose of lessons with younger children should simply be to encourage the idea that books and learning are a source of pleasure and enjoyment; they can consist of drawing, writing, story-telling, reading aloud, card games and board games, copying out poetry, sums, and quizzes, depending on the interests of any particular child - but they should never be onerous or a source of stress, because then they are no longer play, and start to defeat the object of preparing a child to approach education with enthusiasm and the expectation of success.
The time inevitably comes when a young person's interest in playing starts to diminish and their interest in making sense of the wider world starts to increase. If they have not been already put off the idea of education by over-enthusiastic adults, they will then automatically turn to the world of books and knowledge of their own accord, and will approach learning with exactly the same enthusiasm as they approached playing when they were younger.
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We began educating our three children in 1985, when our eldest was aged five years. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn as they grew and explored and discovered this amazing world since the moment they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. I hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was!
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