Let them play!
Let the children play.
Freeform and unscheduled, not limited to set blocks of "official" time so children are free to fully explore their cognitive processes without being interrupted at possibly critical points.
Critical points to them, likely not always visible to others.
Just because it's 10.30 and all of the class must come and sit on the mat and be quiet at this time...that may be what is required for a manageable classroom, but is it what is actually best for children??
What significant natural developmental processes are we interrupting, depriving them of by pushing structured 'learning' so early?
Especially in the most crucial early years of brain development. What is schooling setting up neural patterns for - problem solving and creativity, or obedience and malleability?
One might make good workers, but the other makes good people. Which would we prefer to be?
And children need real experiences too, diverse and rich, not just simulated or constructed or theoretical.
In a school situation, most is simulated or theoretical, because it is not feasible for large groups do anything else, other than isolated excursions or field trips. So the majority of 'learning' is forced and divorced from reality.
But in natural learning and unschooling, life IS the classroom, the world is their learning space.
(Just like it continues to be for us far into adulthood, and in fact, forever.)
What is better to prepare children for thriving in the real world than the real world itself? Why do we think we need to take children out of the real world for at least the first 18 years to prepare them for life?
That only makes sense if the life we are preparing them for is one that resembles the school environment - bells, control, segregation. So... A factory? Harking back to the industrial revolution background of schooling as we know it.
Or hierarchical big company models and institutions.
A world that relies on compliant workers who will do what they are told, but have been trained out of their natural curiosity, love of learning & creativity.
Is that really the world we want? For ourselves. For our children?
And is that really the kind of person who will thrive in a world that is changing more rapidly through technology than any previous generation could have imagined in their wildest dreams.
If we want to create children who are creative and resilient problem solvers who will thrive in life, don't take them out of life as soon as possible and keep them out as long as possible - do the opposite.
Do everything we can to keep them part of life, involved in every day with their families and communities, instead of sitting behind desks being 'taught' about it.
Save 'schooling' for specialised stuff. Let it be just one part of a whole life education, not the status quo, an automatic place to herd all children together as soon as their age dictates.
Give children the autonomy that we didn't have, so they become free, self-directed and thriving human beings from their very first years on earth. Instead of having their autonomy trained out of them, and then having to unlearn all that when they are suddenly thrust back into the real world - numbed, dumbed and ill-equipped. With either a sense of entitlement or a complete lack of trust in themselves.
Who base their worth on comparison, on rankings and grades and achievements. And who go on to judge others by the same, because this is the model they have lived for so long.
Let them play.
Trust that innate curiosity, that natural drive to learn about the world around them. We are all born that way, and it's still in us all somewhere if we are free to let it out. If we are allowed the autonomy we have so long been denied.
Let them play. They will learn because they want to.
And even more importantly, they will trust themselves, they will value diversity and freedom, they will have a deeper respect for others when they themselves were given freedom, autonomy and respect - instead of being grouped and herded and made to be silent, when it suits others without regard for their individual development and preference.
They will be so used to making choices and being trusted and relating on an empathetic level, that there will be no need to learn this once they are teenagers and adults - it will be automatic.
Imagine the communities we could build, the mental and physical health issues that would dissolve.
Imagine the freedom you yourself would feel right now if this had been your childhood instead of the authoritarian system you were conditioned by?
Let them play.
Unplanned, unregimented, uninterrupted
Let them play.
And maybe in the process, you'll even set yourself free.
Sources: (emphasis mine)
"(T)he early introduction of formal learning approaches to literacy does not improve children's reading development, and may be damaging. By the age of 11 there was no difference in reading ability level between the two groups, but the children who stared at 5 developed less positive attitudes to reading, and showed poorer text comprehension than those children who had started later."
"A recent letter signed by around 130 early childhood education experts, including myself, published in the Daily Telegraph (11 Sept 2013) advocated an extension of informal, play-based pre-school provision and a delay to the start of formal ‘schooling’ in England from the current effective start until the age of seven (in line with a number of other European countries who currently have higher levels of academic achievement and child well-being)."
"...have identified play as an adaptation which evolved in early human social groups. It enabled humans to become powerful learners and problem-solvers. Neuroscientific studies have shown that playful activity leads to synaptic growth, particularly in the frontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for all the uniquely human higher mental functions."
"... a number of studies have documented the loss of play opportunities for children over the second half of the 20th century and demonstrated a clear link with increased indicators of stress and mental health problems."
"Children, he argued, require the support of real situations and objects with which to work
out ideas through play."
"The role of play in supporting children’s development of ‘metacognitive’ and self-regulatory abilities... our developing awareness of our own cognitive and emotional processes..."
"Even the most playfully inclined children will not be able to play, sufficiently for them to
reap the benefits in terms of their learning and development, if they are not given the time, the space and the independence to develop their own spontaneous and self-initiated play
"What emerges from this is that, in their play, children appropriate different spaces and features within their environment which are <em><strong>quite unpredictable by adults, and that the richest play spaces are mostly natural and unplanned."
"....play supports novel neural connections and changes the architectural structure of significant brain regions."