Monday, March 28, 2011

So....What are they actually learning?

It's apparent to me that my children and I pretty much hibernate during the long, dreary Toronto winters.  We don't go anywhere.  The children aren't into going outside unless there is a fresh, fluffy snowfall.  And maybe you'd call me lazy, but bundling up to stand at an icy bus-stop to go to the Science Centre or the Museum or the Zoo or an indoor playground even, is just not going to make me want to jump out of bed in the morning.

So we stay home.  In the house. The girls do A LOT of drawing, colouring, activity books, puzzles, crafts, board games and card games.  We read A LOT of books.  We bake.  They play with Barbies, Playmobil, Little Pet Shops, Ponies and stuffed animals.

They play all day.  But what are they actually learning?

Naomi Aldort (author of Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves) has a great article called And They Played all Day.  In it, she describes the importance of self-directed play.  Here is a short excerpt:

Trusting children to direct their own play has immediate advantages: 1) The child is likely to do exactly what is best for her emotionally, intellectually and socially. 2) There is no worry about age appropriateness, and no guesswork about what or how to play or learn. The child is his own best expert on timing as well. 3) Even adequate exposure to needed information is mostly taken care of. Life, as it is, can provide too much exposure in our times. Children will select that which applies to their personal needs. We can share our life with them, our interests, friends, loves, frustrations, activities... and they will observe, learn, and let us know of their needs in their own playful ways. Children who are allowed to play and direct heir own path, will study anything to get them where they want to go.

My children aren't moving in any particular 'direction' of study these days.  But I remember recently hearing a mother complain about how her 4-year-old daughter didn't know how to use scissors in spite of all of the mother's best efforts to teach her.  I thought about how each of my daughters in turn used to always ask me to cut things out of paper for them.  Then they each (between 2 and 3 years of age) picked up a pair of scissors (REAL scissors, not those ridiculous plastic scissors marketed for kids that even an adult can barely cut with) and spent HOURS practising using them until they could cut accurately.  Honestly, each one of my daughters learned to use scissors on a particular day that she chose as Scissor-Learning-Day.

I can see that each skill they learn is going to be like that.  I recently asked Anna (almost 7 years old), who is on the path to learning how to read, if she wanted me to teach her.  She said, "Nope, I'll learn it on my own when I feel like it."  Perfect.

So what are they learning?

  1. Self-Esteem Self-esteem comes from feeling worthy, useful, wanted, appreciated, enjoyed, missed and special.  Keeping them in situations where the people who interact them demonstrate to them that they are worthy helps to build their confidence so that they will eventually be able to handle it when some people treat them with disrespect and derision.
  2. Autonomy  Aren't we all striving for autonomy all the time?  Don't we all HATE being controlled?  Autonomy is the opposite of helplessness.  Helpless children often turn to aggression in an attempt to gain autonomy.  Allow autonomy; prevent aggression.
  3. Emotional Security  Our house is full of emotion all the time, be it joy, excitement, surprise, delight, fear, anger, frustration, sadness or loneliness.  We accept all emotion and don't judge it.  I don't want my children to grow up out-of-touch with their emotions because emotions are the best part of being human.  I have a hard time being authentic with my emotions, which likely comes from growing up in a house where emotions were kept in check, inside, all of the time.  I don't want that for my children.
  4. Relationship Skills  Nothing amazes me more than my daughters' abilities (at varying levels) to get along with each other and solve problems amongst themselves.  They settle disputes, forgive and forget, comfort and help, protect and encourage each other in ways that are completely unknown to me amongst siblings and friends.   And what is more amazing to me is that they can also get along with other children by utilizing all the social skills they have developed with each other.
Yes, they play all day and they learn all day.

Leave them alone.  You can't stop them from learning.

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