In my office I keep a board of inspirational quotes above my desk for me to gaze at between e-mails. One of them says "Teach less, Share more", another says "For some children school might be the only time they are encouraged to play" or "play is an opportunity to practice at life, its dress rehearsal for the real thing". Each one little reminders of how important these school years are for our children.
During my teacher training I focused on the role of free-play and the lost potential of our 21st century plastic and asphalt playgrounds. I looked at how the children played with one another during break times, what sorts of games they were playing, I monitored incidents and accidents (of which there were an alarming number) and how the students interacted with the duty staff (and how they interacted with them). During this time I learnt a lot about how most of a student's day is built around an adult's perception of how learning happens and that break times are structured and provided according to practical, adult ideals. To grossly stereotype a lot of what I saw and continue to see in schools today it seems that learning happens passively and play is " simply time for students to blow off steam".
"Let them play". That is my moto. Give them the space and time to loose themselves in their imagination. No distraction from games or tvs, no adults helicoptering above their games "just checking", no rules or guidelines... Giving them somewhere to hide, some sticks and pebbles to build, sort and collect, giving them mud, sand, water or leaves so that they can feel the natural world around them. Get muddy, fall over, get an insect bite, laugh in the snow... just feel alive and responsible for their own selves.
If I let them, they'll go to desert islands and learn how to fish. They'll build a raft and sail across the choppy seas. They'll climb trees and track dinosaurs. They'll build rockets to the moon and collect stardust for their secrets labs....
Whether in the classroom or during break time, allowing the children to lead their learning can be an incredible experience both for the teacher and the students. Recognising their own interests, hearing their own voices, acting out their wildest imagination, testing their limits, picking themselves up off the ground. These are all life lessons that we learn along the way. It's a part of growing up into a healthy, balanced adults.
I have not yet been blessed with children, so I cannot speak as a mother but I would like to think that for all the love I have for my children and for wanting to protect them against anything that could harm them, I could not allow myself to try to protect them from life. As an adult, as a teacher, as a mother i'll be there if they need me, to help with questions and provide opportunities for adventures. But I can only do so much, in the end they'll learn for themselves.