The academic efficiency of Playing

Having grabbed the time right after my kids’ homeschool geology class ( or ” block” as the more Waldorfian of the parents referred to it), 3 of us parents met with the teacher. She wanted to talk with us about future possible classes and how things had gone with our kids so far. It was a fruitful meeting, as it turned out that each of the parents had a different idea about how the class fit in to their child’s or children’s “studies”.While I had come to the meeting hoping to reduce the number of classes per week from two to one, one of the other parents was hoping we could get back to the initial concept of meeting three times a week. This parent explained that she was aiming for a real “block” study program that would keep her daughter engaged in study every day….that she did not relish having to scramble for additional study materials that might not relate well to the block being administered by the teacher. I, on the other hand, explained that I was trying to do Pre Algebra lessons with the help of a methodical Saxon Math text book about 3 times a week, and that my two kids were also currently enrolled in a Biology class with homework in addition to their own pursuits. We had been having such busy weeks that the math was falling by the wayside.

The teacher shared her perceptions of the kids. She had divided them up a bit by age, but made exceptions when their educational style didn’t match their age grouping, so there was an older kid in the younger kid group, etc. She off handedly referred to how my two kids obviously came from a more structured educational background. I was so surprised to near this that I remained silent. The teacher was actually very perceptive about the kids, but she was entirely wrong about my kids’ educational background. They had been lavishly and whole-heartedly “unschooled”. As a matter of fact, the teacher knew for example that my 15 year old son was just nearing the end of remedial reading lessons, as we had not detected a double vision problem until he was almost 13 and still could not read. My older two boys had also followed this wonderful trajectory. It consisted basically of the theory that the absolute freedom to play until one outgrows playing is the key to educational success. Once they were 14 and 15, the older two had been quite quick to want to make up for lost time with math for example, and had worked on their own with Saxon math texts and then worked one on one with a tutor. They had taken advantage of college level classes and a US. History reading study group under the tutelage of a lawyer. They both approached learning with enthusiasm and creativity. So the assumption that my younger two came from a scholastic orientation was quite funny. The teacher was mistaking their enthusiasm and unfettered engagement for “previous preparation”. I thought to myself that in a certain sense, she was right. They had been allowed to find and collect rocks throughout their childhood. My son had even gone with my husband and I one day to learn what we could about an amazing local geological site from our neighbor who was a Geology professor at Columbia University. My son ended up suggesting the site to the teacher by showing her some of his photos of it, and she wound up taking the whole class there on a field trip.

Nothing like playing until it isn’t fun anymore. It is a more efficient system…kids who are not allowed to play will insist on bringing it into the classroom for twelve years, which makes lessons take a much longer time….