I think sometimes the best opportunities for play and learning come from the simplest things.
Like a bowl of gourds. A couple of hedge apples. An acorn found.
Recently I had a conversation with some people about their experiences and thoughts on their childrens' educations. The children of these other folks are older than mine and most of them are already in school. It was kind of shocking to me that these other parents were talking about the importance of sending their children to the right private preschools and grammar schools so that they would be able to get into an Ivy League school when the time comes for college. These are kids in kindergarten, maybe second grade. I had never really heard of such an idea before. I was surprised to hear that some people think that going to *gasp* public school is practically a death sentence in terms of one's later educational and occupational opportunities. My husband and I both attended public schools growing up, public universities and public graduate schools, and I think we're both doing just fine. We both have successful, fulfilling careers (though my professional career is mostly on hold for now, of course). I don't think anything would have been significantly different for either of us if we had attended fancy private schools and/or obtained degrees from Ivy League universities in terms of where we find ourselves professionally and intellectually. We would probably just have a lot more debt.
Don't get me wrong. I don't have anything against private schools. Lots of people send their children to private schools for lots of different reasons. Some for religious reasons. Some are not fortunate enough to live in a place where the public school system is good. We happen to be lucky that where we live, the public schools are great, and I fully intend to send our girls to them. I'm not trying to pass judgement on public versus private schools. I think as parents, we just try to make the best of what we have. I know I want to give my kids every opportunity to succeed and excel. But I personally believe that much of their success and happiness is going to come much more from what my husband and I teach them about life and working hard for what you want than about any particular school we could send them to, or thing we could buy for them, or whether they know their multiplication tables by age six.
After I started thinking about this whole idea, I saw an article that my cousin posted on Facebook. It's from Scientific American and is called "Preschool Tests Take Time Away From Play -- And Learning." It's a great article reminding us that the best way for young children to learn is to play and cautioning against too much stressful testing and direct instruction for preschoolers. Again, this type of super-focused preschool is not something I had ever really thought of before. One of the things I love about Miss's school is that they have time for open play and exploration every day. And they color, they paint, they manipulate water and sand and flour, they glue stuff, they grow plants and have a worm composter, they do yoga. They learn mostly through experience rather than sitting and listening to someone teach them about the geography of Asia or the different periods of Picasso's art. They do preschool at her preschool. She's allowed to go only twice a week and it's fun for her.
I love to watch my girls play. They are so amazing at it. And another thing I love? What I think is the best "school" for little minds? This:
No worries, this nest did not have any wasps in it!
Taking my girls outside and to other places to experience things hands on is the best thing ever. This week Miss has found walnuts and acorns, some whole and some eaten by squirrels. She has gotten to hold some cool fossils that have been found here (in case you're wondering, we're at the Farm for deer hunting). She has seen lots of deer running, some bucks chasing does. She has seen an almost completely eaten squirrel (she said, "Yuck"). She has held deer antlers. Lass has filled and dumped the bowl of gourds over and over. She has picked up rocks and sticks, and both girls have sat and jumped in leaves. With each of these experiences, we have talked to the girls about what they are seeing. Miss asks questions. Their time here and in other places where they can see and touch and play with the things around them provide such rich learning experiences.
My girls don't have to go to Harvard. They can if they want to, but it's not necessary. We will stress the importance of a good education, sure. But they will also learn that the best education comes from embracing life and the world around them and learning from every experience. And for now, we'll play.