We live in the country, and every spring we end up with at least one litter of kittens born to whichever semi-feral stray cats have decided to camp out in our out-buildings. If at all possible we try to catch them while they’re still young, and get them socialized and find homes for them.
Over the last few weeks I’ve been watching this year’s kittens playing with one another on our back deck. At first, they practice attacking with one another, sometimes going after their mom’s tail, as she sleeps in the sun flicking the tip of her tail back and forth. When one of them gets to be a little more adventuresome, it will climb up on one of the chairs and pounce on an unsuspecting litter mate that walks beneath them.
They tussle and fight, work on their head locks and kicking skills, or practice tail chasing. Until, every now and then, someone gets a little too aggressive and someone else let’s outa MEOW telling everyone things went too far. But before long, they’ve reset the game and started back at it until they finally tire and decide it’s nap time.
I’m often asked by new homeschool parents what curriculum they need to buy to get their four year old off to a great start in school, and I always think of those kittens and say “just let them play!”
Play is the way children learn to figure things out for themselves. Give kids a big bunch of blocks and they will work and work to build the tallest building or the widest building. They’ll try all different strategies until they realize that a wider base makes it easier for them to create a taller building.
Give those same kids a bunch of pots and pans and different kinds of spoons and soon you’ll have kids learning that wood spoons on a pot sound different than metal spoons on a pot. That deeper pots sound different than shorter pots. Send them outside with those same pots and pans and a tub of water, and they’ll discover that big pots filled with water get you wetter than small pots of water do.
Unfortunately, even though our gut instincts tell us play is vital to the way children learn, our educational system has systematically devalued play. We need those kindergarteners to be college ready (whatever that means), so even small children can’t afford to “waste” time on play or recess.
And in return as the amount of playtime has gone down, the number of behavioral and psychological problems have gone up, medicating kids has increased, and kids thinking they’re failures (in KINDERGARTEN, for crying out loud!) has also gone up.
What if, during kindergarten, we simply encouraged them to play? What if instead of launching them into this or that curriculum, we encouraged them to jump feet first into exploring their world. Play outside. Dig in the dirt. Help in the kitchen. Discover rain is wet. Smell a hyacinth. Taste sugar and salt. Sing a song. Jump in mudpuddles. Put together a puzzle. Sculpt animals from play dough. Or do any of the other gazillion things kids can think of to do when they’re left to their own devices (and without using screen time as a pacifier!).
What if, since it’s your homeschool, you did exactly that?
Because honestly, kids are no different than kittens. Kittens learn grown up cat skills, how to attack prey, how to defend themselves against attack, and how to secure food for themselves (should the supply of tasty kibble run short). And they learn all those things through play.
Children learn through play as well.
And the ability to learn through play doesn’t magically end when a kid turns 7 (mandatory school age here in Missouri)! How many times have you heard an adult who was trying to solve a problem say something like “Let me play around with it for a while.”
I’ve been watching a class from The Great Courses called “Understanding and Applying Self-Defense Strategies” taught by Dr. Tammy McCracken. One of the things I particularly enjoy about the class is the way Dr. McCracken, says “let’s play” when it’s time to try out some of the things she’s been talking about.
So before you sit down and plan which curriculum you’re going to buy for your homeschoolers, what if you blocked out time for play first and foremost.
Play — it’s the homeschool way!