musing about pregnancy, parenthood, education, play, & learning from birth until now
It seems frivolous to some, but when children engage in play in any form, it is actually the most advanced form of development we can allow for.
Why, then, are we forcing academic skills earlier and earlier in early childhood education? I want to go on record right away to say that early childhood teachers and specialists do what policy dictates. They become the unintentional gatekeepers of academic skills-- they are the ones who are blamed when gaps occur in a child's literacy development. It really isn't fair. Children walk into PK classrooms with significant gaps in vocabulary development if they come from a home where they are not read to, interacted with, or simply sat in front of a screen. While we know that the 3 million word gap study wasn't necessarily so black and white (the original study claimed a 3 million word gap between those in poverty and those who are affluent), and since then we've developed more nuances theories of vocabulary and literacy development, but ultimately the premise stays the same. In homes of poverty, more likely than not, children do not have access to books, parents who read books to them, parents who engage in storytelling rather than directive language ("do this, go get that, stop that"), and so on.
I'm lucky in that my child is not growing up in poverty, and is surrounded by more books and storytelling than the average household, since, well, I've made a career out of literacy. But sometimes, I need to pump the breaks. While storytelling and books and simply conversing with S. is important, there also needs to be space for individual and free play.
I've been reading a book called The Importance of Being Little by Christakis.
I haven't gotten into the meat and potatoes of the book yet, but already I've finding benefit in recognizing the need for grownups to sometimes not force literacy upon our kids. Yes, academic skills will develop, and yes, literacy is important, and yes, storytelling leads to literacy development-- but general development and social emotional skills come from free play, and sometimes all we need to do is sit back and allow for that free play. Now, does that mean no supervision? Of course not.
Another piece that my husband and I observed as S. recently celebrated her first birthday is the amount of toys she has in our living room. We wondered...what was it like back in the days where kids didn't have access to teapots that sang lullabies and interactive tables that counted from 1-10 in English and Spanish? In some ways, kids were more imaginative, more free. They went to play and found pinecones and stones-- interacted with chickens and dogs (we have both). They swung from branches and got muddy digging for worms. It seems kind of...old-school, right? But here's the kicker-- in 2019, our kids are lacking social emotional skills, and my inkling is because of this overstimulation with screens and toys. Time, I guess, to bring out some boxes and do some minimizing to not only allow for more free play but also to get rid of what is now looking like a possible toy-hoarding in the living room.
So, when is play no longer an acceptable form of development? Well, this kind of depends on who you ask. I plan, when homeschooling S., to give her ample time to play and tinker throughout her entire academic career. This play in my eyes will develop and change. At 1, that might mean she is climbing stairs and opening and closing doors. At 2, she might be throwing a ball to the dog or digging for stones. At 5, playing hopscotch. At 10, mixing different paints to create new colors. At 16, checking out the various capabilities of a VR headset. All forms of play here are developmental in different ways, and all lead to natural learning and, most importantly, do not turn off engagement. Play is actually quite a complex concept, and I plan to use it both for open play and in a way that is facilitated in order to meet standards as well.