It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Let’s rehearse reality

During an interview recently, a parent asked about my “curriculum”. When I launched into a description of play and activities, she sort of waved me off. She wasn’t interested in hearing about just play. She wanted to know what they were learning. She was, it became clear, interested in knowing about the books I read (which I do, of course!), how I teach them about letters, numbers, shapes, colours.

Hmmm. Unless I can make some headway into her educational priorities, I doubt we’d be a good match, this mother and I. Worksheets and drills? At one and two years old?

Just play,” she says.

“You can be Wally, and I’ll be Fred.”
“And this,” Nigel hands Malli a block, “is your hammer.”
“Okay. I will hammer here!”

“Play is a child’s work”. Whether you attribute this quote to Adler, Montessori, Weininger, or someone else, it remains true. Everything a small child needs to learn, he learns through play. Even when we become adults, for that matter, the most effortless learning happens when we’re playing with the ideas, making a game of it. For a smallchild, it’s never “just” playing.

“Hey, Wally. Wally? Bring that piece of wall over here, okay?”
“This piece?”
“I’m brinn-inn it.”
“Now you don’t have a bathroom any more. Now there is no wall, and there is no bathroom, so you’ll have to go live somewhere else, far, far away from your house.”

When they’re playing, they practice problem-solving, they rehearse social situations, they deal with emotions.

“I’m not living in my house?”
“No, you have to live in a new house, and Wally and Fred will fix your old house. You live in a new house, with a new bedroom and no garden and no playing soccer in the back yard.”

They confront anxieties.

“Why can’t I play soccer?”
“Because the new house has nice grass and too much chairs and tables and a big umbrella, and the soccer ball might break the grass and make the chairs dirty.”
“I have a hammer!”
“Yeah. Let’s build the wall. We can build the wall, and make the bathroom again.”
“I’m building a toilet!”
“A toilet to poo in!”
“Uh-huh. You build the bathtub.”

Sounds of industrious hammering, as they construct a toilet and tub out of blocks and blankets. In play, they sort out confusing aspects of their lives.

“Build, build, build!”
“Are we done, Nigel?”
“I’m not Nigel, I’m Fred.”
“Are we done, Fred?”
“Almost. The bathroom is almost done, and the new bedroom is almost done, and the big family room is almost done. The house is much bigger.”
“We are buildinn a new, big house.”
“Not a new house, just a bigger old house. It will be my old house, just with another bathroom and another bedroom and more playing room.”

They deal with stress. They practice reality.
Sounds of hammering. Block pounds into block. Towers clatter.

“Are we done, Fred?”
“We are done! It is a beautiful new old house! Now I can come back!”
“Yeah! I will have a beautiful new old house, and I will go back soon.”

“Just” play? I don’t think so.

July 14, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 15 Comments