Wednesday, November 9, 2011

ETFO's Ultimate Block Party

This past June, the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario -- the union in which I used to be an active member -- hosted an Ultimate Block Party at Fort York National Historic Site in downtown Toronto.  Community organizations and individual artists partnered with ETFO to set up 25 play centres where children could take part in all kinds of play:  music, art, drama, and dance;  science experiments, physical play, adventure play, and story telling.  The entire event was free and all teachers' families were invited.

I did not attend with my children.

It's not that I think the event was inherently bad.  In fact, the activities were phenomenal!  Mountains of Lego, art supplies galore, awesome building supplies, science investigations with REAL microscopes and other exploratory tools and devices.  I would love to have access to all those wonderful things for my children on a regular basis.  But, just as importantly, I would love it if every child had non-stop access to the tools of creation, investigation and imagination every day.

You see, ETFO's event was great, except that it took the same old attitude that all the 'experts' take:  that children should have time to play, but not all the time and not unsupervised and not without sharing and taking turns.  

You see, for PLAY to really be the source of learning for young children, they need three things:
TIME, PRIVACY and SPONTANEITY.  They need as much time as they want, they need to be alone so that they don't fall into the trap of just doing what everyone else is doing, and they need to be able to choose their activities whenever their own spirit moves them to participate.

What if the first five years of 'formal education' were a non-stop ultimate block party?  I mean, just imagine it!  Kids ages 4-9 years old who build, create, draw, imagine and MOVE all day long.  They would have the option of sitting for a story if they wanted or they could print some letters if they wanted but they would have the freedom to choose their own activities all day long.  There would be no report cards because the concept of 'progress' would be irrelevant.  It wouldn't matter if a child wanted to build with Lego for 6 months solid because Who knows? Maybe she'll grow up to be a world-renowned architect!  Another child wants to spend a whole year painting pictures?  Magnificent!  Perhaps he'll be an artistic designer! And what if a child spends a year running around from one activity to another with no real purpose or specific interest?  Fantastic!  A well-rounded citizen in the making!

But what about reading and writing?  Oh, come on.  Do children have to learn to read and write when they are 6 years old because otherwise they'll never be literate?  What if the next 5 years of school focused on just 2 areas:  technology and communication.  Aren't those the two most important skills anyone will need in our ever-changing world twenty years from now?  And what if 5 more years of FREE education were spent letting the children pursue whatever subjects they were interested in, perhaps with expert mentors?

We're Unschoolers, but what I've just described is the FLOW that I envision for my children as they grow into adults.  Right now, they are given access to as many adventures and investigations and opportunities to create as I can find and afford.  Whatever they express interest in doing or seeing or exploring, I find a way to make it happen.  I read if they ask me to and I help with printing words if they ask me to.  They do not use computers and we don't own video games.  In a few more years, I open up the world of technology to them by buying them digital cameras, a cam-corder and likely a laptop.  We will engage in communication via the Internet to learn about people all over the world.  And as they become teenagers I envision them following their passions and continuing to learn whatever they want.

What if they flounder around and don't show interest in anything?  Then I will continue to provide a loving, nurturing home environment where I will support them in any endeavour.  I will value them as unique, compassionate, curious people.  I will treasure their contributions to humanity.

I weep for the way that traditional schooling destroys the lives of children.  Strong language?  Not to me.  Unless the modern system of education MODERNIZES in the manner I suggest, we will continue to churn out young people who are totally prepared to live in 1960.

Ingenuity, imagination and communication are the way of the future.  And until the schools throw out their textbooks, their archaic rules of discipline, their ridiculous heavy emphasis on early literacy and their stranglehold on creativity in favour of forced conformity, we will continue to see a society that is struggling to move forward.

Are you considering Unschooling?  What are you doing to keep your eye on the Future as your child plays today?


  1. I am considering unschooling, but not sure how much un and how much home schooling I intend on doing. Right now daughter is just 16 months and I am reading and learning and planning..
    Thnough I think I am already doing some "unschooling" with her - I am constantley told how I should teach her body parts and colours and to do this or that. I don't believe in teaching these things. She knows what "foot" is because everyday I tell her to bring me her foot as I put on her shoe. She does not know what "eye" is because I don't use that word. But so what.. I am sure she will not go through life without knowing that the organ with which she sees is called - eye! I came to this watching my sister teach her young daughter (then about 2.5) numbers, telling her again and again to repeat after her. Seemed meaningless to me. Just a bunch of words that go one after the other that mummy loves to hear me say. But what does it mean to the girl...

  2. I know! I agree with you absolutely.

    Some time ago I read a book by E. Nesbit (I think it was Five Children and It, but I can't remember now) written almost a hundred years ago. The children go a hundred years into the future. Everything is so much better for kids. Some inventions (like childproofing) really did happen, but most of what she imagined didn't. She was sure that in the future, schools would be places where kids would learn whatever they wanted. They would choose their project for the year, and the teachers would help them with it, providing materials and books. The only punishment ever given out was being prevented from going to school for a day.

    >sigh< If only someone had listened to that ...

  3. Very much what I believe. I do have a couple remarks:
    what does it matter what a child will become as a career later in life because of how he plays NOW. A child is a person too... it's not just becoming a person.
    Second, you say communication and technology would be best to teach as they are most important, but is it not so that when schools try to teach technologies that they are already obsolete. One learns best on the job and through immersion, so if you want your child to lear communication, let him communicate, want him to be tech savvy, give him an ipad and bring him to factories.

    I don't mind what my daughter is learning, and at age three, I don't do structured activities, unless she comes with something to do herself, or on the rare occasion that I am inspired. I will have her know that such activities are available though.
    SHe plays unstructured and semi supervised all the time. SHe also runs around in my husband's woodworks shop and garage. She'll go down to se ethe new dock being built. Or she'll just chase dogs down the street.

  4. Okay, I love this post. So much so that my comment ended up being 200 words. Needless to say, it will be a blog post in which I'll give you full credit for inspiring the flow of words!

    Thank you!

  5. I am rather new to the idea of unschooling, but I certainly can understand its benefits. I'll be staying tuned for Zoie's post on the topic and I'll continually be working out what combination of un and home schooling will work for us in the future. I will agree though, that people have an interesting idea of what kids "should" be able to do by certain ages and it's hard not to go along with that. Thanks for this post, as it helps me as I continue on my journey of understanding unschooling and determining how I will implement it in my family.