There is a constant conflict between early childhood educators and advocators who believe that children should only be playing, and not being “forced to learn” things. There is a fine line between the two because it is clear that children are learning even while playing. So where is the line? I think psychologist Gordon Neufeld hit the nail on the head in the article “All Work and No Play…” in Ottowa Citizen:
“Toilet training can be work, and it can be play. If a child is told that they will sit on the toilet until they produce results, then it’s work. If there’s food dye in the toilet and the child is eager to find out what colour the water turns after a tinkle, then it’s play. Learning to play the piano can be work for a preschool child, or it could be play. If it’s coming out of a child’s passion, then it’s play.”
Extrapolating this statement, I guess the same applies to any other subject we teach our young children be it reading, Math, Science, art, or even sports. It isn’t the “what” but rather the “how” – if that makes any sense. Children can learn anything as long as they want to. If they want to, it’s play. If they don’t, it’s work. And what early childhood educators should be aiming for is to make sure it looks and feels like play. And if it doesn’t, either find another way, or drop it for now.
And that brings me to another line of argument: If we make everything fun and enjoyable for our children, they will never really learn how to work hard or to persevere through hardships. I confess that this has been one of my deepest fears. Success in later life means commitment, having tenacity, and never giving up. How will a child ever learn these values if we make things too sweet for them? The natural tendency will be to follow the path of least resistence so surely it is good to give them a nudge in the direction where things are hard, isnt it?
After pondering about it further, in light of the article in Ottowa Citizen, the question isn’t “whether” but “when”. There will be time for them to learn about struggling and working hard in the later years. During the early years, it should be about foundation and grounding. If we can do that right, they will be primed and ready for challenges later in life – or so I hope. I guess this is a little like the discipline issue – what they are now is not necessarily how they will be when they’re 18. In fact, there are numerous changes that children undergo that we come to accept as part of the natural law of growing up – that they won’t still be in diapers when they’re 18, they won’t be still nursing, they won’t be stuck to us like a siamese twin because they’re worried they won’t see us again, and I could go on and on.
Rather than fear a particular trait you don’t like in your child and worry that he’ll be doomed to be like that for the rest of his life, work on helping him over come it and be patient. Don’t expect miracles to happen overnight. The great thing about noticing these faults early is that we can still do something to correct it.
Anyway, I’ve digressed… The article also adds that:
Neufeld is against four-year-old kindergarten. He’s also against five-year-old kindergarten. And possibly even six-year-old kindergarten. Unless, of course, kindergarten is all about play and not at all about results.
So I guess I should be glad that whenever I ask Aristotle what he did at school, he answers: “Nothing. I played all day.”