The Power of Play ~ Written by Kara S. Anderson
I’ve been thinking a lot this summer about the importance of play, and how it can help kids dive deeply into learning.
It began simply, with an idea – to put something out for my kids each Monday this summer that they could explore at their leisure.
I didn’t want to force anything. Instead, I wanted to make something available that could be our go-to for the week.
Unschoolers call this idea “strewing.” I’ve been calling them Monday Morning Invitations, and so far they’ve included ideas like making sidewalk chalk paint and giant bubbles, crafting a s’mores solar oven and creating gnome homes.
Some of them have been huge hits and extended far beyond the initial week. Some have been minor misses. The kids didn’t hate them, but the idea didn’t stick around as long.
But all have been fun and hands-on, and maybe arty or science-y (and usually a little messy).
And all have reminded me of what can be learned through play and time and space.
The Power of Play
When my kids were younger, maybe 4 and 7, they went though a stage of hammering rocks.
Let me tell you how I felt about them hammering rocks: I felt like a bad parent.
I felt guilty.
I would try to enjoy the time they spent hammering rocks – I’d try to read a book, or drink a tall glass of lemonade, or even lesson plan for the coming school year.
But instead I just felt neglectful.
I hadn’t done anything to facilitate or support this obsession. Instead, someone had left out a hammer and one of the kids discovered it, and then they went and searched out another hammer, and then they put on some goggles, and then they would sit in the driveway and hammer rocks, and it just all felt like something they were doing because they were bored and I had offered nothing else.
I felt like I was failing them in some way.
It turns out that I wasn’t.
Recently, we pulled out a hammer for a Monday Morning Invitation, and my girl’s eyes lit up. She ran inside and got her goggles, and went in search of rocks.
“I just remembered!” she said. And she went on to recount fond memories of pounding rocks with her brother – how they would see that the insides of some rocks were different than others; they even pretended some were “diamonds.” They discovered that some rocks were softer than others – some really shot apart when hit with a hammer, while others crushed easily into dust.
And all the while they were enjoying themselves – spending an hour outside together. They weren’t thinking at all about all the things we weren’t doing.
They were happy.
A couple of weeks later, my daughter asked me if anyone in the house had a carabiner she could use for a project.
“Mama!” she said laughing, “you know what I just remembered? I used to call them can-i-beaners! Remember? We used to use them and string yarn all over the house and make our stuffed animals fly.”
I do remember.
And let me tell you how I felt about the carabiners and the stuffed animal ziplines: slightly better than the rock-pounding, but still as if maybe I should be doing something … Talking about gravity? Or maybe explaining some simple physics?
“That was so fun!” she remarked, and I realized in that moment that you know what would have made it kind of un-fun?
A mom following them around with a textbook.
Time and space
Several years ago now, I wrote about giving our kids space. I had learned through observing my own kids that some amazing learning can happen in the spaces between formal lessons.
It’s like kids need time to let stuff percolate. Waldorf education talks about this – during the day giving kids in-breaths and out-breaths – times of more focused activity and times when they can do other things and let their minds wander … It talks about literally letting kids sleep on ideas in order to help their learning.
But what I’ve learned recently is that as parents, we are learning too. We are learning how to be homeschool parents.
That means that sometimes we will make mistakes, but it also means that sometimes, we will get things right, but not know it until much later.
When my kids were pounding rocks and making animal ziplines, they were happy. They were having fun together. They were building a sibling bond.
Maybe they were learning about mineral density and pulley systems, and maybe they were just being kids.
But being a kid is a really important part of childhood.
We often say of homeschooling that it allows kids to “learn all the time.”
But maybe another benefit is that it allows kids the space and freedom and time to not “learn” sometimes – or at least not be pushed into formal learning when what they really want is to play and explore and learn naturally.
We may only recognize the benefits of those times in hindsight, but I can now attest that our kids are grateful for them.
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