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).

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A Little Boredom is a Terrible Thing to Waste

Our family was miserable for the first two weeks of summer this year, all because one of my children was generally disagreeable.  He completely forgot his manners, barked commands at everyone (including his parents) and practiced sarcasm on everyone he met (“Ice cream? Why wouldn’t I want ice cream?).  Finally, after putting up with attitude for far too long,  I regained my senses, looked at him and asked, “What is WRONG? WHAT is going on?”

He promptly burst into tears.

“None of my friends are at day care this summer. I have no one to play with. And I’m bored!”

Oh.

Is that it?

Here’s where I wanted to say something like, “Oh, suck it up, buttercup! Why, when I was your age I was bored all the time in the summer. And look how I turned out! No one ever died of boredom. ”

But no. What I said was “I understand it must be hard for you to not have your friends around you, but surely you can find some new people to play with for the next couple of weeks until everyone comes back…

…and no one ever died of boredom.”

It’s true. Boredom is one of the defining elements of childhood summers, like scraped knees and ice cream.   What child hasn’t sighed deeply and yawned at least once, when faced with the unbridgeable chasm between June and September? It doesn’t really matter whether you’re a kid at camp, at home, or on a never-ending roadtrip with your parents: summer is always, in part, kind of boring.

And well it should be. As Katrina Onstad states in her Saturday piece in the Globe and Mail, “boredom matters because it makes room for its contrast: the burning joy of being alive.”

I actually want my kids to experience boredom once in a while.  They need the room to root around in their imaginations, unfettered. They need time to daydream.  And they need the motivation to do so, and escaping boredom is the perfect excuse. We live our lives so quickly, with the rushing around from school to activities to dinner. What I wouldn’t give for them to have nothing to do but live in their heads, ride their bikes, explore everything from the woods to cracks in the ceiling, and slow down. If they end up complaining to me that they’re bored, I might be tempted to look at them, wink, and pronounce, “I hope so”.