It’s probably going to be hard to explain why this picture means something to me. It’s just a load of toys on our saggy old sofa, a scene you might see any day in our house. Quite a nice little arrangement of dolls perhaps, but nothing special. Just one of Monkey’s many creative play scenes which he loves to make. The thought that he put into it, the care he took over the details, his satisfaction when he had achieved what he had set out to do…these are the reasons why this picture sums up childhood for me.
Some would say he was “just playing” but I think that is missing the point. It’s easy to be influenced by the world around us, with its constant messages that our children need something more. More structure, more organised activities, more early education, more targets, more testing… Loud and clear we hear it, if you don’t give your children all this, they will fail, they won’t be able to compete, they won’t get in to a good school, college, university, they won’t have a future. How many of us stop to question it?
But we should. We should question the idea that play is something to be fitted in only if the work is done. Even though it has become more fashionable to talk about “learning through play” this has made little real difference. Even with the best of intentions, it can be difficult for teachers to plan opportunities for “learning through play” without taking a lot of the joy and creativity out of it. Children learn best when they have the freedom to lead the play themselves, and to develop it as much or as little as they need to at that time.
As a home educator it is easy to pick out examples of our children learning through play, and it is very satisfying to be able to report that they have, for example, set up a cafe, written menus, taken orders and worked out the cost and the change. It is tempting to jump up and down with glee, and say “Look, here they are, doing English and Maths, and they think they are just playing!” But if we only recognise that they are learning through play when their play happens to coincide with a neat and tidy list of subjects (the National Curriculum perhaps), then we really don’t know the half of it. We may not know what they are learning, perhaps we don’t need to, but when children are given the freedom to play in a stimulating environment, and allowed time to develop their play and sustain it for as long as they want, we can be sure they are learning. This is the kind of childhood that I want my children to have, and in this country we are lucky to be able to give our children this freedom. We are also able to choose whether they are educated in school or at home, but it is accepted without question that every child has a right to an education.
While I was thinking about this post, I had an interesting conversation with Owl and Monkey. It started with a rant about tidying Lego, and how we should look after our toys as many children don’t have any. We talked about the situation in West Africa, and our involvement (with other bloggers) in the World Vision sponsorship scheme; about how it would feel to be hungry all the time, to work very hard or walk a long way to get a little water or food, and not to have time and energy to play; about how charities are working to provide food for the children who need it, but they need our help. Owl suggested that we should get some of our toys and send them to the children, so we had a discussion about the cost of sending toys to West Africa!
Most of us have comfortable homes, warm clothes, enough food and an abundance of toys, books and other possessions. Many children and families in West Africa have very few of these things. We may feel helpless, but in reality we are not. In our own small way we can each make a difference to one child, one family, and collectively we can make a bigger difference by sharing our efforts.
This post was written for a blog hop to raise awareness of World Vision’s West Africa Appeal, and the DFID matched funding they are receiving until 30th August. Any amount you are able to donate via the World Vision website will be doubled and will go towards long term projects to help build a better future for the children of West Africa.
I am tagging two other bloggers to join in to the blog hop if they wish, to help spread the word.
1. Holly Blog
This is a blog hop hosted by Patch of Puddles.