It has occurred to me lately how much my kids play. They play all together, just two of them or on their own. Their play can sometimes be quite elaborate like imagined scenarios inspired by a nature program or movie. Last week the girls were gazelles while Henry was the lion. Then they realized that only lionesses hunt so Henry became a gazelle too. Or sometimes the game just involves one kid on a bike zooming past trying to avoid the pillow held by another kid. I watch my kids play now - I have the time. However, I often wonder how much they are learning by just playing.
When the three of them are playing together they constantly NEGOTIATE with each other. There is only three years between the youngest and oldest but they still have to talk at the others' level of understanding. This is more so when Henry is involved as the girls are pretty much on the same level of language, emotional and social development. They all try to 'get their own way' with each other though there is a lot of COMPROMISE from each of them. When there is no compromise, the game breaks down and someone storms off in a huff. I don't think any of them really enjoy doing this so for the most part it is avoided by someone backing down. Right now it is usually the girls who back down and Henry is usually the one heard if there is a dispute. Possibly because he is the loudest. However, if the girls' ideas are better than his or he just wants to be with them, he will LISTEN and follow. I love watching this family dynamic develop and I am fascinated at how they are learning how to COMMUNICATE together and from each other.
I have also noticed that most of the things they play with, are not actually toys. In fact I have packed up nearly 90% of their toys and they have not missed them. They use things like hedge trimmings after Papa has been gardening. Rocks under the stairs and cane mulch from the garden. The other day the got all the half broken kiddie fencing that was ready for the dump and laid it all out in the back yard. Each part became an island that they had to move between without touching the lava (grass). We went to a park for a picnic and though there was no play area, the kids still managed to find something to do. They collected small branches and made a bonfire (sans fire of course) then they became fascinated with the gravel driveway and collected beautiful gems (building rubble that we just had to take home for further investigation).Their play involves much IMPROVISATION and they are constantly coming up with new ways to use their environment.
Heath had given them an old computer server with lots of removable parts. Henry turned part of it into something for his game that needed him to line up some of the parts like a caterpillar. They are very good at MANIPULATING objects and using them for purposes other than the ones for which they were intended. I am going to do my best not to buy any more toys this year though I am always on the look out for things I know they will play with that are not toys. One dollar spray bottles inspired nearly two hours of garden play and a wonderful way to keep cool on a hot afternoon. No object labeled a toy keeps their interest for that long.
So what are they actually learning while they are playing, if anything? I look at what we do in our 'adult' world and I can see how they play together is the way we behave once we grow up and our adult life starts. When we work with other people we are constantly negotiating, compromising and listening in order to be effective communicators. Incidentally, I think it is very rare that we would ever work with thirty other people born the same year as ourselves once we leave school, which means we must understand how people of different ages and peer groups think and react to certain situations. This skill of being able to communicate with people not our peer age group can't really be taught in a school setting so we learn it once we leave school. Some people never learn it and struggle to get along with others despite spending most of their childhood being surrounded by people. I am not sure I really learned how to be around people until I was in my late 20s... even now I wonder!
Being effective communicators aside, we also improvise and come up with new ways to doing things and we manipulate our surroundings to get the job done. This is being an adult and living in the real world. So shouldn't childhood be playing at being grown up?
I think the thing I am most pleased about home education is that Zoe, Lily and Henry get to play more with each other. I love how close they are becoming and how much they love each other. Sometimes I have to rationalise their play time so the teacher side of me is satisfied that they are getting enough 'education'.
Other times I just let them go because in my heart I know that PLAY makes them HAPPY.