Friday, October 10, 2008

Encouragement for More Make-Believe

by Vivian Gussin Paley

I'm inclined to lean toward lots of play time (as you all well know since we still haven't started any formal schooling here on the range), so I naturally picked out this book. I found some interesting anecdotal evidence of the importance of play and some arguments I personally believed. Here's a long quote (bear with me):

Although we feared the influence of television, we were cutting down on the one activity that counteracts the mindlessness of cartoons. We blamed television for making children restless and distracted, then substituted an academic solution that compounded restlessness and fatigue. The children may have been the only ones capable of making sense of the confusion, and they did so whenever the schedule was cleared so they could play.

The misplaced academics of kindergarten affected the first grade as well. When kindergarten was the place for pretending school, first-grade teachers could take their time beginning formal lessons. It was always assumed that there would be ordinary children, without exceptional handicaps, who benefited from extra time to grow into academic areas. We called it maturation, and it was an important concept when we talked about children. Is it maturation or personality, we would ask when a child did not adapt to our activities? We were more inclined back then to look for fault lines in the curriculum than in the child.

We now have reversed the order of events. It is generally believed that the earlier we begin to train a child in reading and writing skills, the better off everyone will be. In many classrooms, the "pretend writing" of fours and fives looks real enough to begin keeping progress records. By the nineties a "chicken-and-egg" dilemma became apparent to me. Since the earlier we begin academics, the more problems are revealed, were the problems there waiting to be discovered or does the premature introduction of lessons cause the problems?

The author echoes many of the fears and proposals found in Better Late Than Early: A New Approach to Your Child's Education.* I tend to agree. I worry what my quiet son would do if he was in a classroom all day. I encourage him to play outside. Would his teachers? Kansas Dad took the kids on a nature walk in our backyard this afternoon, pointing out weeds and seeds and such simple things. How nice for the kids to just enjoy the little breeze and the hint of autumn smells in the air!

There will be plenty of time for letters and words and reading, no fear!

What I found most interesting in the book were descriptions of conversations and stories provided by young children and how Ms. Paley linked their stories to their ability to make sense of the world and social structures. She didn't provide studies, but I suppose it would be a difficult thing to measure. I was intrigued enough to hope to give First Son and his sisters encouragement in their own story-making. I'll probably have to find another how-to book on that. I don't remember being bad at fantasy play when I was a child, but I am most certainly deficient in that area now! Some of the examples in the book gave a few insights, but I think I could find more explicit suggestions in other books by the author.

As First Son would say, "Hi-ho, Sliver, away!"

* I reviewed this book on a previous blog and will try to dig it out and repost it here.

[Update: It turns out I haven't reviewed the Better Late Than Early book, just read it. It basically says kids are better off starting formal schooling later rather than early. I bet you're surprised.]

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