Saturday, February 7, 2009

Real Play

I've been meaning for a while to post a short series of thoughts on education. I can't make any promises about future posts, but today I'd like to share ideas from For the Children's Sake. I feel the title of this book sounds nostalgic, perhaps shrill? Nevertheless, most of author Susan Schaeffer Macaulay's ideas is in line with our developing vision of education; liberal in the classical sense, respectful of the spirit and intellectual capacity of the child, nurturing of health in body, habit, relationship, and sense of wonder. It is the growth of wonder that I believe must be the heart of all true education.
So, a snippet: these will be the words of Macaulay, quoting another educator I have enjoyed exploring, Charlotte Mason.

"I would think that as a good a place as any to start is the concept of play. After the child's needs of love and nourishment are provided for, the child plays.

"There is a little danger in these days of much educational effort that children's play should be crowded out, or, what is from our present point of view the same thing, should be prescribed for and arranged until there is no more freedom of choice about play than about work. We do not say a word against the educational value of games (such as football, basketball, etc.)... But organized games are not play in the sense we have in view. Boys and girls must have time to invent episodes, carry on adventures, live heroic lives, lay sieges and carry fort, even if the fortress be an old armchair; and in these affairs the elders must neither meddle nor make.

"She goes on to say that if we do organize their play there is a

"...serious danger. In this matter the child who goes too much on crutches never learns to walk. [or, I would add from our time, the child too much in the exersaucer may never learn to crawl]

"This is a point which needs to be considered further. Play seems so natural (just like anything which is attuned to reality). The phrase 'child's play'... ought to mean that quality of spontaneity, imagination, wholehearted concentration, and joy which should mark all children at play.
but one of the saddest things I know is to watch [older] students look at a group of children, involved for house in satisfying play, and comment, 'I've never seen children playing like that.'

"No? Then weep. "

What does it take to foster real play? Macaulay, I think, is right when she says that education is a life and an atmosphere in the home. If, in the home, kids see people busy, playing, working, making, reading, discussing; if one's ear in the home is not bombarded with the noises of electronic toys, squallings of unhappy children, with either the threats, bribes or unheeded entreaties of adults; if the home is a peaceful, beautiful place; if children are loved, known, listened to, and, when necessary, corrected; such kids will work. Such kids will play!

Reading list of books that have helped me as we shape our family's educational philosophy:
-Grace Llewellyn (Teenage Liberation Handbook, Guerilla Learning)
-The Well-Trained Mind: this book, outlining suggested curricula for a classical trivium may seem the opposite of unschooler Llewellyn as it offers a rigorous, systematic approach. I'm glad to know I've found it for times and areas that we may decide we want that.
-Charlotte Mason: many echo this, but she is a champion of whole books, of real and living books, of being out in nature, of telling stories, of growing virtues like a garden in the light of love and gentleness.
-Maria Montessori: "Understanding the Human Being" helped me attend to my kids as infants in a deeper way. I love the series of pamphlets called "Montessori speaks to Parents," and have learned much from her writings about observing my children and about the developmental needs of people.

The picture above is from last fall at Glendalough--a great state park we visited and highly recommend. They have gnarled oak groves, lots of waterside trails, and prairie restorations. That's the day before the first snowstorm.

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