The Playground Is A Classroom

On the third day of school I picked up my newly minted SKer from the dismissal line.  While I was waiting for him to run into my arms, a mother of one of his classmates turned to me and said the kids had been to the playground and with a roll of her eyes said, “I can take her to the slide.  What about learning some letters?”

Crap.  I didn’t know that our 4 and 5 year olds were applying to Ivy League schools tomorrow.  Why am I always the last to know?

My SKer inverts his letters, skips numbers when he counts to thirty and thinks that Terry Fox lives in the forest behind his grandparents’ house.  My pre-schooler would rather pick his nose than pick up a pencil and I am fairly certain I will have a struggle on my hands getting him to read a book, unless of course, he’s on a toilet.

But what my kids do excel at is, being kids.  They have wild imaginations that leave me eavesdropping from behind a wall, wishing that I had the video camera recording every sound that they make.

Sometimes the baby bathtub is a speedboat, and an old belt is the water ski rope.  Other times it is a racecar whizzing around the perimeter of the playroom.  One time it was a bobsled shooting down the stairs (I put a stop to that one).  Their new favourite game is playing dogcatcher.  The toddling baby* is the stray dog and the older two are “dog nappers” who surprise the unwitting mongrel and toss a net (blanket) over their capture.

The comment from the schoolyard mother made me bristle.  Sure anyone can take their own kid to the playground but would any sane person take them with 19 of their peers?  It’s on the playground where kids learn social skills.  They learn how to take turns, wait in line, and show compassion for others.

They create a bond outside of the classroom that can’t be replicated within the confines of four walls.  The way I see it, it’s like a company retreat.  Except the company is school and the employees are students.

What’s the point of good grades if a student lacks the social skills to apply them?  Furthermore, creativity and imagination need to be nurtured as they are born organically from childhood and simply cannot be taught by an instructor.

In terms of homework, I balance on the fence.  In the younger grades homework can actually be a communication tool between parent-teacher and parent-child.  Parents can reinforce what was learned in the classroom by engaging in discussions and enhance what is being taught by expanding the classroom walls to include the greater community.

We spent many hours this summer in the garden watching the tomatoes and cucumbers grow.  My son explained to me how root systems work and how tomatoes get their red colour.  We looked up answers to his questions on the Internet about what vegetables grow in Ontario during the summer months.  The seed, pardon the pun, for this learning was a school unit on plants.

I am sure that there will come a time when homework becomes a laborious chore for both of us, but for now and I hope for the future, I continue to look at it as an opportunity to enrich what he is learning.

And here is where I slide to the other side of that fence.  Homework that is rote and has no real application is dull.  Dull for everyone – student, parent and teacher.  Not only is it uninspiring but also it serves no real purpose.  In our face-paced society where parents are struggling to get dinner on the table, fighting with kids to complete tedious assignments does not sound like quality time spent – for anyone.

From my perch on the middle of the fence, I say that homework has it’s place but not at the expense of being a kid and bonding as a family.  There is so much more to life than grades and academics.  And I would say that I am not alone in my thinking.

Click here to read a great article from Science Daily and here for another from The Globe and Mail.

*(My guess is that boy #3 might make through school on a wrestling scholarship.  Just saying).


Reliving My Childhood

To My Three Boys:

I have been surprised by myself in many ways throughout my life but never so much since all of you have come along.

I remember the extreme ebbs and flows of my emotions at your age toward just about anything whether it was an opportunity to pee off the boathouse at our cottage, the anticipation of a family vacation somewhere or begging for a new bike.   Elated and hung up over such things, I didn’t sleep, had butterflies in my stomach and well, I too, latched onto Papou and Baba like a leech from a weedy pond.  I recall my childhood and those emotions so vividly and since becoming a father find myself reliving these memories.

In adolescence and beyond, that elation and excitement was not as easily drawn – except of course for the boathouse experience.  If I may speculate, you will educate yourself, impatience will be your leading virtue through your teenage years and I expect that at some point you realize that you are not the only one in this world. If there are stages of life this one, childhood, is exploratory.

Since you have come into my world, it has been bliss.  And patience has become my virtue.

I am selfishly reliving my childhood with you.  How about that race car track I bought you at Christmas that you could barely operate?  And the remote control helicopter that you fly like a kamikaze that almost took out the eye of your play-date last week?

It’s not the gifts. It’s the excitement on your faces that have left an imprint on my memory that will stay with me for as long as I am here.

It’s the hugs, kisses, bedtime stories, your attempts to report the events of the day and all of the questions and little things you do to and for me that I will remember forever.

Emotions ebb and flow once again. You have connected the cycle of life for me and now it seems simple.

Mom and I love you, love to be with you and look forward to spending the rest of our lives with you.



Written by Paul Jones who is the dad to three boys, ages 4, 3 and 9 months and husband to a beautiful domestic goddess, without whom he would be utterly lost.  (Author bio written by said goddess)