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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Adventure of Childhood

I watched a fantastic documentary last night on ABC called 'The Lost Adventures of Childhood'.  With a five year old about to start school I have been thinking a lot about what we have given her in preparation for school. Have we done enough 'stuff'?,  ie shouldn't we have tried to fit in more extras like music lessons and dance classes as well as the swimming lessons she loves.  I've been feeling anxious, thinking that in some way I had wasted this precious pre-school time when their brains are like sponges and their neurons are firing and connecting all over the place.  Have I in someway limited her development and potential by not doing all this 'stuff' early?  Watching 'The Lost Adventures...' put it all into perspective and reassured me that perhaps we haven't been so far off the mark.  Our two girls love spending hours in the garden - making potions and 'cooking' and collecting magic stones and building little gardens and climbing trees (the five year old at least) and decorating the pavement with chalk and making 'paint' and dressing up and doing 'shows' on the trampoline and teaching each other tricks and pretending to be birds and building hiding places - in short, having Adventures.  The documentary made a very strong and compelling case for the importance of play as a way of learning important skills like independence and initiative and problem solving and communication and negotiation and of course developing creativity.  As far as I can see, these skills are clearly more important and core to success as a human being than whether you can dance or play basketball. The program shed light on the worst excesses of 'hyper-parenting', however well-intentioned, and debunked some of the myths about team sport being 'character building'.  In one fantastic and inspiring example of the real benefits of play, a drab school playground was transformed by some cardboard boxes, large pieces of fabric, chalk, fun 'props' like walking sticks and other miscellaneous objects intended to stimulate creative play.  The results were quite amazing.  In the playground, the children's approach to 'playtime' completely changed from filling in time to a fantastic chance to create their own adventures.  And in the classroom, the teachers were struck by the change in their students - their concentration, problem solving, initiative and group communication all improved noticeably after only two months of playtime adventures.  The school didn't need to spend thousands on fancy play equipment - a couple of cardboard boxes and some material did the trick!  I found this incredibly inspiring and also reassuring.  Kids can learn more from old fashioned play than from hours of 'extra-curricular' activities that in reality just leave them exhausted and overwhelmed.

2 comments:

  1. And all that running around can overwhelm parents too!!
    I'm heavily in favour of wild time in the yard myself. We did not have a lot of other options as one of my children has a disability. His siblings are deeply imaginative, creative and empathic people. They missed very little really (though they could all be better swimmers I guess.)

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  2. there's a lot to be said for just letting children be bored and see what they come up with, too....

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