I remember pretty clearly being four. And even being five. I remember my thoughts, my emotions. I remember snapshots of what was going on around me.
I remember when I was in gymnastics at 4 years old. I thought I was so big. So old. I didn't realize just how young I was. We were doing floor stretches and they asked us to do the splits. I couldn't, so I "cheated." I sat down on the floor and did a strattle. Looking back, I'm sure the teachers knew I wasn't really doing the splits. But inside I was scared that if I couldn't do them, I might get in trouble.
That's silly. Why would I ever think that I would get in trouble for not knowing something...at 4 years old?
Children have a lot of pressure put on them at such a young age. The sooner they learn ____, the better. They will get that "head" start. I have been known to push S in the past. Sometimes even now I get competitive! (I am more than sure that is what stressed S out at her Gymnastics Placements the other day.) Having lots of friends with kids the same age, it seems like there is always something to keep up with. Is she reading as fast as this other kid? Does she have enough hobbies and interests like that kid? Are her "social interactions" up to par? Of course those come out in my actions sometimes. "Let's practice reading aloud. I just want to see where you are." "We haven't done much with the Civil War this week. We need to!"
And to think, with my educational philosophy, I still struggle with these all the time. Imagine having to not only fight the urge to force learning, but to silently suffer when we see that our kids are "behind" because they can't recite the alphabet in Spanish or don't have their math facts memorized. They just aren't ready. Nevermind the fact they know all about the Spanish Armada or Medieval History. Or the fact they can build a castle with double reinforcement and a sweet motw out od blocks in a matter of minutes. But as a dear...NEW friend put it, "What are those children missing out on when they don't get choice and they don't get play?"
We sat and talked about this for 2 hours after we met on a CHEA playdate. I hardly mention we are "unschoolers"because the stigmas attached to it. I more or less refer to us as relaxed homeschoolers because the terms can be somewhat used interchangeably without the nasty connotations around the latter.
Anywho, I mentioned to her we were pretty relaxed and she commented they were too. She proceeded to explain they don't even use curriculum. Finally! The first CHEA families I have met that home schools similar to us. We began talking about books on play. (We love the same authors.) And all the importance of setting up forts or playing pretend ping pong. We discussed how all this play leads up to instant understanding of concepts that would otherwise take hours to teach. Oh, play. How I loathe that we need a constant reminder that you are actually HEALTHY and PRODUCTIVE and a great foundation for a success for life. But we will get to that later.
We enjoyed each other's company for awhile and then had to part ways. (She has a 5 year old girl and a 7 year old boy that Samantha will get to play with this Thursday. All the things they will learn... :)
I stress it all the time that play is important. Pure. Play. Not play that adults take and twist. I would almost go as far as to say that the best play is organic play. Play made up of outside materials. Play that children have to completely make up themselves. But in today's society toys are inevitable. We personally try to stray away from lots of characters so there is no basis for where to start. (Yes, TV is one of those inevitables too.) Instead we try to provide pretend play (kitchen, tea set, dress up), art play, (free for all on paper, pencils, markers, play dough, etc.) and building materials (blocks, Lego's, K'Nex), and not to forget the classics (dinosaurs, safari animals, dolls).
I hear this a lot. "Kids need to be stressed while they are young so they know what it is like when they get older. And they will succeed." (Words from my own Husband's mouth. However, he tends to like to challenge me to make sure I am firm in my ground, so he is always devil's advocate. Many others have made this comment to me too, and meant it.)
That's a lot of what we get attacked for. People tell me that she does not have enough stress. (At age 5?!) That she shouldn't be allowed to play so much and she needs to know what it is like to have a due date for something or to be forced to finish what she started, even if she didn't start it by choice. (Not that I am teaching her to be a quitter here, but if I give her some sort of out, that chance in the beginning, I believe she would be more apt to try things. I know as an adult, I sometimes stop in mid project or don't attend a group anymore. I may pick it back up later, but I have gotten what I need for now. Anyway...)
It really baffles me that people aren't just nagging me about unschooling as she gets older, but that they are talking about the here and now of it! At 5, almost 6 years old. To have a successful life, she needs to have a stressful life...at 5? I refuse. Free time allows her play. And I know most people think we are nuts for opting out of 2 days a week for gymnastics this year. Or deciding not to join AHG. What's one more activity? Right? Why not join co-op? Gym class with CHEA would be fun. Are you too lazy to take your child places? Are you too cheap to pay for it? She is missing out on valuable opportunities! Wait. Hold on right there. She isn't missing out. She is gaining so much. Time. Time to play. Play will lead to passions, which she will practice through more play. Which will one day, maybe, lead to formal instruction, if she chooses. (However, she recently opted against formal art classes.) And as for that "much needed" element of stress....
Play for kids provides "stress" without undue stress. My daughter is stressed that she can't get the K'Nex to go together. She is stressed that she can't figure out the puzzle. She is stressed when she can't figure out what to draw or paint. This is much more age appropriate stress than, "What if I get in trouble for not being able to do the splits?" "What if I can't pass this test?" "What if....I am not good enough....and never will be?"
If my child needs to have these thoughts in order to be successful in society's view, maybe that's not what I want from her. Maybe I want to teach her to be happy and not so burdened with everyday life. Although a long lost concept for some, happiness is a form of success. It may not come with a college degree-or it might. It may not come with a lot of money-maybe it will. But it comes with good health, a REAL smile, and a following for a passion that provides a feeling that nothing else can.
I truly believe playing will benefit MY child far more than any class, any textbook, or any paint by the numbers project could ever do. So for all the haters, let the playing proceed!!!