I want to share with you a couple of articles about the importance of play. The first article (found here) speaks to our younger learners and how important it is for them to learn through playing.
The second article (found here) is a look at this philosophy from the other end of childhood. The article, written by two Harvard professors, talks about how most Harvard undergrads know how to work hard, but some have never learned how to play… and it shows.
Parents often talk about Montessori children having a sparkle in their eye or a spring in their step that most students don’t have. At our school, parents wonder at how their children love school at Fulton, compared to their friends at other schools or to their old school. There are many reasons for this, but two keys are the relevancy of curriculum and the autonomy of the student.
As part of a Montessorian’s call to follow the child (see Part II), we need to tailor the material to speak to them. This does not mean that third grade boys should only study Legos and four-year-old girls must study princesses. A true educator knows that you can get kids excited about almost any subject if you approach it appropriately.
We do need to be ready to help children understand why they’re learning. When we teach a preschooler to zip, she is immensely rewarded by helping all the younger kids who cannot yet zip get zipped up for recess. She is even more excited to go learn the next thing. This can get more difficult as the material gets more abstract, but it must remain a priority. However, if we are following the child and the material is developmentally appropriate, the relevancy will be much easier to convey.
Secondly, kids love to learn when there is a little bit of choice. Can they do their grammar before their reading comprehension? Is there some give in the schedule when the group gets particularly excited about Egypt? Can they move on after page 65 or do they have to wait on the rest of the group? Can they choose a timeline OR a skit?
99% of us would be completely deflated if our professional lives were devoid of any relevancy or autonomy, so how dare we treat our children with less respect? We can and do, and most children comply, or at least try, but they will not have the sparkle or the bounce that they could have. They will be surviving instead of thriving.
This article from The Diplomat discusses about China’s tendency towards rote memory in school. Sadly, many American schools are racing towards China’s mistakes as they focus increasingly on standardized testing and AP classes. The very interesting documentary, Waiting for Superman, examines this issue in the context of the bureacratic paralysis of the American public schools. But no school is immune to such pressures. The more educated parents are about sparking creativity, the more initiative American schools (public and independent) will be able to take to make sure our students know how to think better than they know how to regurgitate.