Structured activities and free play
Early on, parents enroll their children to as many classes as possible: language, piano, sports, music, you name it, cramped up in one day, one after another. Some search franticly for kindergartens with “many activities”, where children “learn” about whatever the grown-up most definitely knows better than the child. And yes, children learn from grown-ups too, but that is just a fraction of the whole learning adventure. Teacher-led activities have their educational role of course, but even then, the teacher must read the signs, must know when a child is interested or ready and prepare the curricula accordingly.
Young children learn the best from their environment and from their peers. Our role as key-workers is to provide a positive environment, where children are welcomed and celebrated as individuals, where their take on the subject taught is valued, a place where children feel heard. What they think and feel is also important in the educational process, as well as the mistakes they make as they mark the areas that need improvement.
But the most important ingredient in early years is TIME. Children need time to get bored. Yes, that’s right. The pressure of knowing more and doing more has already taken a toll on our children. We can all witness that every day, when they come back from schools- places with 100% structured activities. Children have outburst of energy, the energy they had to stifle the whole day, sitting quietly at a desk.
Children need time to daydream, to climb a tree, to interact when they feel like it, to make friends, to choose games, to say “no”. When these rights are taken away from them too soon or too often, we get children who don’t know how to play, who don’t have preferences for food, for activities, children who are too afraid to try new things, because somebody told them too early and too often “no”. We have to retrain children and teach them that they have rights, instincts, feelings and they have the right to access them.
Children need time and space to be creative. The best games they come up with and the most fun they have is when they have the space to bring their own ideas to the plate. I strongly believe that our role as caretakers is to make sure children have the right instruments to face social situations and cognitive tasks and then TO STEP BACK a bit. That gives them the opportunity to test what they have learned and to take another step. Let’s read stories even though children seem engrossed in another activity. Children can still hear us and that is still a teaching opportunity. It just takes the pressure off and it also gives the child the power of choice. Also step back enough to allow children to make small mistakes and be there when the teaching opportunity arises; let them get dirty, let them try and fail and encourage them to try again; that’s how they become resilient.
Because at the end of the day, children are individuals after all and the essential tasks they have while growing up, are not to be good performers, but to discover who they are, what they want and what are the smart choices. For that, they need TIME and the SPACE