Free Play to Learn

Remember all of those mud pies we used to make?
As a home schooler for many years I always supported free play.

My kids played in the tub, in the sink, in the yard. They used paints, playdough, art supplies, sewing supplies and more.

We studied bugs, foods, gardening, the solar system and history.

There were no places on this earth that weren’t places for learning.

But after sending my kids to school I’ve found that I have become so regimented.

Our life sounds a little like this:
Breakfast, bus, homework, chores, dinner, (sports if we have any that night), showers, bed.

I’ve been finding myself saying no to my kids when they ask to play with things in our house, when I didn’t used to…

‘Can I use that shoe string?’- ‘NO’.
‘Can I borrow the pots and pans?’- ‘NO’.
‘Can I paint?’ (EEE GAD!) ‘NO!’.

Recently my son had some plastic eggs from Easter. The eggs had pin holes in the bottom of each one.
He asked me, ever-so-politely, if he could play with them in the kitchen sink. 

Mind you the kitchen had been cleaned up from dinner for quite some time now and I was in no mood to go back in there and wipe up any water mess that he was about to create.

I kept scanning my brain for a ‘No’. (You know what we parent’s do when we don’t want our kids to do something but we just cannot think of a valid reason why they shouldn’t.)

Well, you guessed it, I couldn’t find even one good reason why he shouldn’t play with water in the sink. So finally I said, ‘yes’.

Jumping for joy, he flew into the kitchen and put the eggs into the sink and turned the water on. 

(Yes, I was cringing.)

After a few minutes he’d drawn the attention of my nine year old and together they were experimenting.
Soon after, I found myself offering them one of my metal mixing bowls to add to their home-made water fountain.

They continued to play and talk and learn.

In about a half hour they were all done and had wiped up (most of) the water.

The bowl went in the dishwasher, the eggs were placed on a towel on the counter, and that was the end of that.

No big mess, no horrible things happened.

Just two little kids learning cause and affect all on their own.

I don’t know what has changed. 

Whether it’s that I have a tendency to think they already are learning what they need to or that they might make a big mess that I don’t have the time to clean up… or whether I just think that anything off of their calendar-driven -schedule  is  not what they ought to be doing…

I just know that I need to be more free with their free time.

I always believed that play was important as a home schooling parent and somehow I’ve gotten away from that belief.

It would be sad to prevent them from that experimental play that helps them ask questions and learn about the world around them.

This week let your child ‘play’ in their down time.
Turn off the T.V., fill up the sink and let them play.
If your kids are older, get out some paints and some poster board.
Let them use markers on their old sneakers or back packs. 

Just let them go crazy. 

Playing is learning.

At least that’s what I always used to say.


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