I grew up in a small neighborhood near Los Angeles many years ago. We spent our days around the neighborhood playing for hours and hours exploring nearby neighborhoods and playgrounds, playing sports, and tag, riding bikes, catching bugs, and many more activities that represented our play life. Playing defined the life of children and adults saw play as the pursuit of children, while parents lived busy lives earning a living and managing adult activities like paying bills and shopping for food. Our life was carefree, our time unscheduled, and activities our own to control. In my neighborhood when a group of children decided to spend the day or a week figuring out how to build and fly a kite, building a kite comprised the work children performed.
Children desire to experience a play life, a life of joy and exploration a time to grow up slowly and savor the magic and wonders of the world. Time to live mindful of what is happening around them without worrying about what happens next. The pressure of modern school expectations is demanding much of the wonder of childhood and stealing time that before constituted child initiated activities. Over 20 years ago, David Elkind addressed this issue in his book, The Hurried Child, and since that time, we have only increased programing of children’s time.
School has become a place where young people prepare for the work life of an adult commencing at five years of age. An age when children could be playing and making discoveries on their own, forming questions about experiences and owning the time to wonder about the possibilities that exist in each experience. Instead children accept a mandate to start work, grow up, and proceed past the activities of childhood as quickly as possible. Now turning five means your childhood of freedom and wonder vanished and now the time to start the 17-year conditioning process towards employment has commenced.
What creates the rush to begin a work life? What makes the process of becoming an educated working adult become pushed further and further towards birth? All new proposals for childcare include some provision to insert educational components and involve measurements to guarantee children exist ready for school and the work life at five years old or sooner. Should infants and toddlers take mandatory tests? Will that make our education system better?
A map of the typical work life could look something like the following. At five children start the conditioning process for work and then after college at age 22 a person obtains a job and keeps proceeding along the treadmill of life and work until age 65? Now sixty years of time has passed since the child lived at age 5 and now permission is granted to play again. The following scenario represents a broken model and a model featured because of the perception children are failing in school in some false competition with another country.
The reason children are failing drives my very reason for writing this article. The reason children are failing is well meaning adults stole away an authentic childhood the foundation of what makes learning great in the later years of life. The ability and opportunity to play in childhood and to experience this time of life sets people up for the love of learning later on. The care free and open mindset skills of childhood reminds, invites and teaches older people to live as more creative, accept new challenges, and embrace change.
The skills involved in play and discovery constitute exactly the skills lacking in many people today because schools are training a system of compliance, following all directions, and filling in the blanks. Now when faced with making decisions these former children as adults cannot make any decisions without some one feeding directions or offering multiple choices. The exploration and creativity that childhood provides equals the foundation for these skills and all that is required of adults is moving out of the way.
The play life of the child embodies more than play. Early childhood represents the essential time of development when children learn all of the “right stuff” to utilize a famous cliché. The stuff of childhood constitutes the foundation for the rest of life. This stuff gathers though a slow moving, highly intentional process which children dictate at their own pace and rate and any interference from well meaning adults stops the progression in it's tracks. It's okay to play!
What age did you begin formal school?
Did starting school at a younger age or older age benefit you later in life?