Back when my oldest child was at the tender age of 5, attending the local magnet Kindergarten, we had a very short conversation in October that immediately seared itself into my mind.
Me: Come on. Let’s go. We’re going to be late for music class.
Him: But I just got home from school.
Me: I know, but we have to drive across town.
Him: But I just want to play.
Me: You don’t have time to play. We have to leave now.
As those very words escaped my mouth, “You don’t have time to play”, I knew I was doing something wrong as a parent.
Soon after, I made the decision to homeschool and to trust in my children’s ability to lead the way to a different style of learning – one based on their natural curiosity.
When the garden of my children’s minds was allowed to take root, fascinating things happened. The way in which they played with the world around them opened up new ideas and deeper understanding.
Take the day I was mowing the lawn, my one guy was climbing a tree and my other kiddo was throwing a stick. I knew he was throwing stick because I got hit with it. Sure, he apologized – but he went right back to throwing it, again. The stick hit me a second time, so we had a little talk.
He told me that he wasn’t aiming the stick at me. So, why do you keep throwing the stick? Because it does something different when I hold my hand different ways, he excitedly explained. Really?
We walked over to a row of bushes and, sure enough, he aimed his stick at that direction and showed me what he meant. If he threw the stick, starting with his hand behind his head, the stick went a certain distance forward. Instead, if he threw the stick upward with his hand at his knees, the stick would travel high but not very far.
For my little guy, this discovery at the age of 4 was a goldmine of data. All kinds of stick-distance throwing permutations existed and wanted to explore them all.
For me, I was grateful that I had the patience to not yell after getting hit with the stick a second time and to try to understand the world from my little guy’s experience.
I skipped the physics lesson that could’ve been “taught” and simply went back to mowing my lawn – after confirming that my little guy understood that throwing sticks into bushes was the only acceptable direction for his experiment.
The play that my kids engaged in rarely looked like what you would find in a typical suburban backyard. Some days I would hear loud crashing and banging as they continued to seek to understand the cause and effect of projectile motions. Or, maybe they just really loved to be covered in bruises as they jumped off their swingset seats at the peak of their forward swing to see how far they would land.
Other days, they would rule over their kingdom of beanie babies and stuffed animals as they created imaginary worlds full of legal systems, religions, cultural conquests, and a competition for natural resources and land. It was as though the Civilization video game they loved had come to life in my living room.
Years have passed since that fateful day I proclaimed no time for play existed. As my guys got older and their hunger for deeper academic learning increased, we found a balance between play and school. My guys have accomplished all sorts of groovy gifted things that might make a person go, “Owwww”.
At the same time, certain achievements just slipped by them. Neither one ever made SET. And no one is a master chess player – but they did master mud fairy hut building. I’m okay with that.
As my kids stand poised to get their first apartment together as young men, I can look at them and see how their unstructured play helped form their lives. The former leader of imaginary kingdoms recently completed grant-funded research on the democratic peace theory. My hands-on kinesthetic learner is devoting his energy to building houses.
Would either kid be in the same place today if I had been busy looking at my watch saying, “It’s time to sit down and do algebra now”? Anything is possible, I suppose. What I do know is that the power of trusting in play – which is no easy task when you have state homeschooling regulations to meet – does lead to positive outcomes.
Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page Blog Hop: Gifted @ Play. Hoagies’ Gifted is chock full of information and resources for every aspect of giftedness. Check out Hoagies’ and read the other great blogs participating in Hoagies’ June Blog Hop!