Learning Can be Easy Parents Just Have to…

…butt out.

What many people seem to misunderstand is that there is intense concentration and phenomenal learning taking place as children make sense of their world for themselves when they are involved in open-ended and undirected play. That means there is no adult instructing, helping, informing, drawing conclusions or protecting the child in question. They are not being watched and evaluated they are not being extended or hot-housed. The parent does not involve themselves in the play, unless invited and only plays according to the instructions of the child. The adult is present and warmly comforting if needed and on demand, otherwise they are conspicuous by their absence.

If we take the example, often attributed to learning a musical instrument or other highly demanding skill, and transfer it to the importance of play, we can say it takes 10,000 hours of open-ended and undirected play to begin to learn how to manage risk, develop skills in problem-solving and make sense of the world. It’s a good idea to have children able to know if they truly can manage for themselves, or need to go for help, before they naturally begin to break away from their parents at around age nine. 10,000 hours over nine years is just over 3 hours a day or 21 hours a week. It doesn’t sound a lot until we work out how much time is spent doing other things – some of it essential, much of it stolen by adults – sleeping; eating; listening to stories; being involved in family rituals; personal hygiene; times in transit; formal activities and school; chores; adult directed play and so on.

For an example, here’s some of the open ended and undirected play I just happened to notice (when I glanced in his direction) Mr Butterfly (two and a half-years old) involved in over a period of about three hours on Saturday morning:

Spinning the wheel of an old trailer which was perched up high; moving a dressing-gown cord in the air and watching how its shadow changed on the ground; sawing a crayon with a handsaw; cutting another crayon with scissors; jumping off items of various heights; climbing the fence; swinging on the self-closing gate and letting it bang against the framing; hunting for hens eggs; digging in mud, dirt and gravel with hands, digger and spade; telling himself stories; singing songs of his own invention; chasing the chooks from the garden; building huts using the bedding with his brothers; playing monsters with his brothers; drawing pictures and explaining them to me; and playing a monkey-drum and dancing like only a white boy can!

And that’s only the things I happened to see, by chance; notice the lack of battery powered or electronic play? The rest of his learning happened out of my sight sight. (Yes, out of sight.)

Have a playful week. 🙂

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About Karyn @ kloppenmum

kloppenmum is me, Karyn Van Der Zwet, mother of three and ex-teacher. I'm part of a revolution in parenting, with the aim to raise mature (not sophisticated) and self-assured children. I also know some stuff about adults. I have also had articles printed in The Journal for The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (Children and Young People) and the US parenting magazine, Pathways to Family Wellness, as well I regularly write for World Moms Blog (named as one of the Forbes 100 most useful blogs for women 2012 &2013). You can follow me on facebook (kloppenmum) pinterest (Karyn at Kloppenmum) and twitter (@kloppenmum). I'm also vaguely on LinkedIn (Karyn Van Der Zwet). Thanks to Joe (Mr Hare) for taking the photo. Cheers, son: xxxx.
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8 Responses to Learning Can be Easy Parents Just Have to…

  1. What a great reminder for so many of us, esp. in the US, as we are heading into our summertime. There is a great focus here on camps, even for our little ones, and giving the kids “something to do”. (Admittedly, my son is attending a morning camp held by his preschool for two weeks, and this is my ‘childcare’ for summer.) I don’t wonder, though, that if we gave our kids access to raw materials, or sunblocked them and set them to play outside, how much they would grow and learn for themselves. We have a found objects drawer and I’m always amazed at how Kiddo can go into it, pull out a few items and keep himself busily experimenting for quite a while, much in the way you describe Butterfly’s testing and observations. I try to remember this every time another over-structured ‘opportunity’ comes along for my little guy. And it’s an especial challenge not to extend/expand his play, because that’s what I do as a preschool teacher, right? But letting him enjoy his own interests and keeping myself in a support position for his pursuits in those areas is a good lesson for me, too.:)

    And yes, keeping the tv and computers usually off make for happier kids, in my humble opinion.

    • 🙂 It intrigues me how our generation tries so hard to get things right by being involved etc, not realising that being ignored (for an emotionally healthy child) is actually a really healthy thing to happen – it *was* wonderful to check in on Mr B every now and again and see just how much learning he was involved in. PS I wonder what would happen if you didn’t extend the children’s play at pre-school… 😉

      • Yes, Karyn, it’s true that extensions sometimes get in the way of spontaneous learning…however, if I didn’t offer extensions of interest, I likely wouldn’t have a job. Here in the US, there is such an intense focus on preschool/early learning of academics, I’d have a hard time justifying a ‘free play’ curriculum, especially if I was working at a daycare or someone else’s preschool. There’s a huge push (from the top down) on the “Race to the Top”, the Obama admin’s educational program which replaced the equally-flawed No Child Left Behind from the GW Bush admin. What’s being taught in kindergarten now is information which used to be introduced at the first/second grade level. While I don’t agree with this, I figure that a more follow-the-children’s-lead ’emergent curriculum’ approach is better than a prefabricated curriculum which may not reflect the children’s interests at all. (Incidentally, when I had my own preschool, I did have a few potential parents not enroll because it wasn’t academic enough for their tastes/anxieties.) Parents here are very worried about their children measuring up and being kinder-prepared. We do the best we can in our situations, don’t we? 🙂

        • Absolutely. I was stirring! In most pre-school situations here teachers are ‘encouraged’ to educate and extend all the time too. One of the things I love about the Waldorf curriculum is that the teachers are involved in real world activities like gardening, sewing, ironing and cooking (leading rituals like storytelling and eating together and intervening when needed) while the children do their own thing. How we manage to convince parents and the powers that be that it’s a far healthier approach, I don’t know…for now, as you say, we have to do what we can do.

  2. blaxter says:

    Excellent post – again! If only the whole world knew this… I think we are in danger of ruining a whole generation of kids, out of sheer ignorance, because we are always told to grow them up when in fact they are quite capable of growing themselves up much of the time. At least for three hours a day 🙂

    • 🙂 If children are well connected they do so well with a little ignoring! I agree, it is just ignorance and people wanting to do the ‘right’ thing but being brainwashed into thinking that ‘acvities’ and ‘educational play’ are the way to go…

  3. Busy Butterfly! Three hours is a great benchmark to have in my head. Thank you.

    • It’s one I’ve grabbed out of the air, really, and probably isn’t enough. But you’re right, it’s good to have benchmarks when the pressure to be too busy kicks in. (Were you in the Bay when you came home?)

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