Have you ever watched your kids running around, playing and pretending, and basked in their energy, joy and imagination? Incredibly, they seldom run out of ideas to use in their play and can take one, tiny, shiny subject nugget (like hamsters, in my our case) and build entire worlds, rules, routines and fantastical situations around it. It blows my mind, especially when I am struggling with coming up with a creative solution for dinner each night. I mean, really, doesn’t their play amaze you?
I never expected to homeschool
And then I had kids.
No, really, the decision to homeschool did not enter my ideastream until my oldest was ending her kindergarten year at a tiny, play-based preschool. We were lucky to get in early to this school and she was one of three in her kindergarten class. It was the only choice in our area to give children ample free playtime outdoors with plenty of art experiences and learning through means beyond worksheets. And as the year came to an end, I looked around at our schooling choices: an excellent, award-winning elementary school and a handful of private schools. What was missing from those academic schedules? Ample time for play. Due to pressure for children to perform adequately on state testing, play is the area (besides the arts) that was being squeezed from the day.
At the same time, my friends who had older children, were sharing stories of what parenting and schooling looked like for their families. What I heard made me sad. There was talk of anxiety and pressure, loads of homework and practice testing. I already tried to keep a reign on how busy our family was with outside classes and sports, but I really started to question what my daughter was going to face once she was “in the system”.
(And, oh, by the way, I’m a former teacher who loves teachers and was raised by two. I support teaching and would love nothing more than teachers to be able to work their magic without the constraints of testing and furious reporting hanging over their heads. But I digress…)
The Number One Reason We Love Homeschooling
Homeschool looked to us like an alternative to the jam-packed schedule. It felt like a more natural way to learn-outside playing and learning together, wearing ourselves out because there was too much running, climbing, exploring and mess-making…not because of seatwork and lining up.
And so, we play. Play is essential to the socio-emotional development of children; so much so that even if there is nothing provided to play with, children still come up with pretend play. Play is a child engineering their own learning. I started to really incorporate play into our learning, making that more a focus than something we did after the “work” of the day was through, and, well, that’s when we started to see our homeschool start to hum.
The Intersection of Work and Play
Lest you think our learning is all play and there is no hard work, take a look at those things you are great doing. Is it gardening? DIY? Playing the piano? I would challenge you that anything done with passion, any skill you have developed and enjoy, you have played at it but also worked at refining it so you continue to improve. This is where the light of homeschool lies for me. The intersection of work and play, learning and laughing. There is a base of learning we need in order to play. Even little babes in arms need a basis of play. In order to play with numbers, you need to develop some number sense. To play with language, you need to build up a skill set to juggle words and fit them together. Play sometimes turns into work; when we get stuck on a level in a video game, when a word gets misspelled over and over, when a science experiment flops. Sometimes you need to work to get over a hump in learning and this work helps us to continue to enjoy our play.
And so, we play. Our homeschool days are flexibly built with plenty of time to work on our play pursuits. There is a giant hole in our backyard that serves for science investigations, engineering challenges, and construction worker vocabulary development. Our woods are for nature walks and exploration. The trampoline serves as our spelling station. There are card games for math and iPad apps for building vocabulary.
Play makes us happy. Play makes us smart. What better reason to embrace it as a way of life and a way of learning? I wish you playful learning and happy homeschools, Mommas! Make it all about play and see what magic is in store for you and your kiddos!