Early education Success: 3 Simple Ingredients – PART 1
“I am struck by the fact that the more slowly trees grow at first, the sounder they are at the core, and I think that the same is true of human beings. We do not wish to see children precocious, making great strides in their early years like sprouts, producing a soft and perishable timber, but better if they expand slowly at first, as if contending with difficulties, and so are solidified and perfected. Such trees continue to expand with nearly equal rapidity to extreme old age”
– Henry David Thoreau
Precious early years… the years of joy and playfulness which seem to pass away so quickly. The child is busy, full of energy seemingly interested in anything and everything around him. The well meaning parents are busy too. They are thinking hard and wondering how can we give this child a strong foundation. When we start something new there is this excitement of wanting to do everything right but unfortunately in our overzealousness we often end up harming more than benefiting.
Also on the other extreme is not doing anything at all and taking a very passive role because what can you possibly do with a young child. Not being intentional about the choices in their environment can also be harmful. These two extremes are very common and they tend to frequently plague new homeschoolers and I must admit that I have been no exception. Its only with time, experience and knowledge that I learnt and I am still learning.
But here is the good news, there are some really simple things that can enrich the early home education experience and help your child develop to his full potential. And yes there is a very important role to be played by the parent. Lets look at the basics which will hopefully help you prioritize and get the right energy in your homeschool. On my rough days, I remind myself these very basics and strive for it even when everything else seems to be falling apart. Its like a framework on top of which everything else rests and I build up from there and sometimes we are soaring, and sometimes we are literally at the surface. But its alright, as long as the basics are right, you cannot possibly take away the many advantages of home education.
Children need the time and space to play both in the house and out in the open. Its not optional, we cannot skip the play to replace it with something better. There is possibly nothing better for them than just to play. Its so unfortunate that as a culture we have drifted away from natural play. Its been replaced by structured lessons both indoors and outdoors, video games and TV time. When a child plays physically using movement, it is actually developing his brain. The left and the right hemisphere get integrated as they have rich interactions with their environment and all of this happens best through play. So playing literally grows their brain.
Play also helps develop emotional intelligence. Children need to make sense of the world around them. When they play they are trying to make sense of everything and this time for themselves without the adults telling them what to do is absolutely essential. I have experienced this with my boys. They tend to be calmer, more well behaved when they get adequate playtime. This is found in many books on discipline and behavior management. We need to have free blocks of time throughout the day so the kids can play.
Imaginative play boosts creativity and also builds concentration. Its the only time when a child feels in control of the situation. A child gets to make decisions and follow them through as per limits set by them. When they do pretend play, they are rehearsing something. Listen to it and you will understand, its usually related to an event that happened recently or they will be playing the roles ‘mom’, ‘dad’ , ‘policeman’ etc. They are recreating the world as they see it but only this time they are in control and they are “playing” out the roles in their own way.
Sometimes certain situations will be played over and over again until they are able to make sense of it. In this kind of role play a lot of important things are happening. The children define the parameters, they set the rules, they decide the limits , they decide the roles and they learn to stay within those roles during the play and switch between tasks and roles. This is how they rehearse to become like ‘us’… Adults. This is very important work in a child’s life.
Years ago I had read an article on executive function. It is a complex skill which is more important for future success than IQ or EQ. It is a set of cognitive skills that help us stay on tasks and control our behaviors for the attainment of our goals. Executive functions include basic cognitive processes such as attentional control, cognitive inhibition, inhibitory control, working memory, and cognitive flexibility.
In simple words its self regulation. Its something that develops in childhood. So we are either facilitating it or standing in the way. Harvard University’s ‘Center on the Developing Child’ has done a lot of research on this and they were extensively referenced in the article mentioned above.
So now that we know that play is important, the next question is how do we facilitate this kind of beneficial play. Prefer unstructured play over structured play. You do not need to plan elaborate playdates or do anything complicated. Play is natural and you just need to keep free blocks of time. Choose the toys wisely. Its better to have fewer toys which can be used in multiple ways than have the latest stuff which keeps adding up and it only teaches them disrespect and entitlement.
Sandbox, water table, block sets of different sizes and made of different materials, handmade toys, collection of sensory toys made with natural materials, classic building sets , lots of blankets or scarfs to build forts, pretend play etc are some of the best toys. For outside company, just go to a playground. It provides plenty of opportunities to socialize as well. Its better for them to be outdoors and play with dirt as much as possible.
Charlotte Mason emphasized outdoor time and she said that do not be indoors if you can be outdoors. Children learn risk taking when they experiment in the physical play which will help them with decision making in the future. When we look at any successful person’s life we usually see a moment in their life where they took a risk.
When a child is going on the monkey bars for the first time they are taking a risk. A child needs to experience this kind of risk taking and feel the joy of overcoming an obstacle. We don’t want our children to be overtaken by timidity and the best way is to give them small opportunities while they are young. You see everything is a rehearsal for the future. This innate need in the children are part of a special plan. We need to find an outlet for these in appropriate settings.
Its unfortunate that we emphasize on reading programs and other academic work when they are so young instead of focusing on play which will truly help the right and left hemispheres of the brain to work in co-ordination for future reading/academic success. Many experts believe that ‘true reading’ does not happen until both sides of the brain are used and for some kids it happens quite late. This is crucial.
Also Physical play does not necessarily mean soccer classes, karate classes or any structured sports lessons which last for very little time. I misunderstood this for quite sometime too. Its usually unstructured or has very little structure and it should last for much longer than the regular sports programs do.
At one point in my journey I made a conscious decision to not compromise on this no matter what and I have reaped the benefits of it ever since. In summary, when a child is playing, he/she is getting physically and mentally strong, developing concentration, refining their senses, rehearsing in different ways for the future adult life and also learning to be creative by using their imagination. So let them play and enjoy these joy filled moments because they will not last for too long…
“Play is the work of childhood.” – Jean Piaget
“Play is the highest form of research.” – Albert Einstein
“It is a happy talent to know how to play.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning.” – Mr. Rogers
Click Here for PART 2 of this article