The ramblings of an ex teacher!
This intriguing and must read post is brought to you by me ‘Paul’ (ex teacher Anne’s husband and Harry’s dad). I don’t seem to have a face avatar yet.What started out as a post to highlight the benefits of learning through play (of which there are many) has descended into a reflective and confused post about all that may be wrong with the world when it comes to our children.
If you have found this blog post in the midst of the thousands that are posted online every second, then well done! You have probably stumbled across this post while waiting to pick up the kids from school or similar! I’m always amazed (once I get started) how much I can write on the topic of childrens play.
As I write this post i have decided (rightly or wrongly) that children seem to grow up too quickly these days, the emphasis seems to be more and more on exam results. Harry has test after test and for what….. so one school can say they are better than the other?
As an ex teacher I am lost when I try and break down what formal education means in today’s Britain. I remember spending endless nights setting tests for kids, marking essays, cajoling children to come to revision classes with veiled threats about how their life would be destroyed forever if they didn’t get 5 GCSEs . I thought I was preparing them for life, whatever that means. Looking back I desperately wished I had encouraged them to sing, draw, dance, act or even just play in the mud more, to get in touch with that oh so silent inner voice that’s inside us all, speaking and guiding us somehow, somewhere. Oh no, I had to get those exam results otherwise as a teacher I was judged a failure. On reflection it was more about me than the children, of course I cared for them, but maybe I cared more about my reputation, my job, how I was going to be judged. Perhaps as parents we need to start a gentle revolution to save our children from the treadmill of quiet desperation and allow them to sing, dance and use their imaginations!
I have decided after writing this blog post that I need to re-discover how to play. I haven’t created anything in years, I’m always too busy, too stressed ,what rubbish. I give myself permission to create a piece of art that expresses and gives release to what’s going on inside my soul. I have a strange feeling it will do wonders for my own mental health.
Early Years Foundation Stage Framework
The majority of this blog uses the Early Years Foundation Stage Framework (EYFS) to highlight the importance of learning through play and using toys similar to mud kitchens, or look at some of our favourite wooden toys for ideas! If you have a young child you may have heard of the EYFS. If not have a look because some of their ideas on what we should concentrate on in terms of learning and development for our young children (0-5) are really interesting and provide lots of food for thought when it comes to thinking about what activities we do with our own families.
The Importance of communication & language development
This is about encouraging our children to be confident in expressing themselves. Learning new words, sounds and so on. Playing with a mud kitchen or similar toys can really help children develop in this way. I have seen children (with guidance) build a wormery and its amazing how having a focused project gets them working together, deciding on a plan of action, delegating tasks, being introduced to words that perhaps they don’t regularly use. Its great fun learning the names of worms !
Another thing to highlight is the importance of role play, such a great tool for encouraging children to communicate and use language. Get your child to put on a chefs hat and you have your own version of the Great British Bake Off. Dad or mum can take on the child to see who can become the new champion. In these situations it’s all about encouraging our kids to use their imagination. We need to banish words like sensible, that’s fine while your young….ahhhhh, if you are not allowed to dream when you’re 5, then what hopes do we have as adults!
The role of physical development
This highlights the importance of encouraging our children to understand the importance of being active and interactive and to be aware of food, what is healthy and what is not.
If you know anything about us then you know food is so important in our family and was one of the main reasons we developed the grow range of mud kitchens. Harry has Coeliac disease, so its important we think about what goes into his body. We have a small allotment which has been brilliant for us and Harry has really developed an interest in the vegetables we grow and has even started cooking pancakes. You don’t need an allotment you can get some seeds and a planter box and off you go, which makes a fantastic activity to do together.
Personal, social and emotional development for your child
This is about helping children feel positive about themselves and helping them in forming good relationships. Play is brilliant for achieving this, doing activities together is a great way for children to learn the intricacies of relationships. As a former teacher I was always amazed at the effect and impact of words. Praise and encouragement make all the difference and can plant seeds that will live, nourish and grow in a child forever. Giving children activities that they can access were there is no right or wrong, that just allows them to express who they are is crucial. It used to break our hearts when Harry would come home crushed because he had ‘failed’ again at school. Who decides what failure looks like, how dare we label children at primary school…but we do and Harry was one of the many who carried that around in him.
The importance of words
Self explanatory. We love words in our house. We used to try and learn a new word each day, but as with lots of good ideas, it didn’t last long. There are countless opportunities to excite and encourage children in terms of literacy.
We all love Maths!
There are all sorts of way kids can learn about Maths through play. Measuring jugs, children can get familiar with quantities and weights. If they have two measuring jugs then they can really get a feel for different quantities and even start using the correct measuring terms such as millilitres. Leaves, stones, sticks, sand and mud all provide countless opportunities to work out how many leaves or pebbles are needed for the latest mud pie recipe. Maths can now ‘almost’ become fun and hopefully without the stress !
David Attenborough rocks!
Is there anything more important than teaching our kids about the world around them, from where their food comes from to the world of David Attenborough and the incredible animal life that exists under and on top of the water. Rain-forests, climate change to even whats above us.Its essential our children have some understanding how it all fits together the challenges the world faces and their role within it. Heavy themes, but using toys and activities to facilitate this is important. Living near the sea and country side has been amazing for us, we are privileged to witness every day (if we choose) the power of the ocean and the life it carries. One of our favourite activities when Harry was younger was chasing the waves and then of course running away from them when they came back into shore. The sound of the water moving over the pebbles was quite something.
Let your child dance!
Perhaps my favourite, this is all about drawing out that creative spirit that exists within each of our children. We were fortunate to be at Camp Bestival this year. They had a new area called Lizzie’s Way and in this area there were mud kitchens, a story den, puppet theatre, a place to hunt for treasure and even more impressive there was a wood sculpture that children could work on with real tools and over the weekend it got bigger and bigger . It was really eye opening to watch how engaged kids were making potions, mud pie recipes, creating stories and making dens. Not an I pad to be seen anywhere, though it did help that the sun was shining!
One of our passions behind creating wooden play kitchens is to encourage role play, it always amazes us how often a mud kitchen turns into a cafe in which all sorts of mud pie creations are bought and sold in the mud cafe.This is why we added shop doors, so children could create different opportunities for imaginative play, be it as a shopkeeper or a Doctors surgery .
Children have the most amazing imaginations, Harry loves coming up with stories, he will suddenly have a flash of inspiration and some fantastic plot will spill out of his lips (if only he would write them all down) and he gets really excited and we often sit down and try and develop the plot together, until he gets fed up of me trying to take over.
What about art ! The older I become the more I understand art has a powerful way of expressing what’s going on inside your soul.
As I’m writing this its world mental health day, and I have seen many posts on how art has played a role in helping people with their own mental health and the role art therapy plays. I have decided unilaterally that it should be a legal requirement that all parents have to buy their kids some paints or crayons and let them without inhibition paint , draw and create using whatever they want. Hands, feet , noses or even paint brushes. Perhaps we should join them!
In conclusion, perhaps as adults we also need to learn how to play again. Maybe together we can teach each other to sing, laugh, play, create and dance ! My hope for Harry is that as he grows he will discover and be allowed to express that creative part of his soul and for Harry and all children creativity in whatever form it takes will be celebrated in all its colourful, messy shapes.