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Preserving childhood and the joys of it are critical.  This next posting is actually a September 2012 archive from my prior blog.  However, I feel the message is so important I am carrying it over to this new blog and re-sharing it.  A familiar child advocate, Fred Rogers, once said:

 “Life isn’t about what you’ve done, but what you can do”.

There is always something to do for children because they need someone to be their voice in times when they can not speak or speak loudly.  Protecting children from the trickle down of today’s pressure driven education system is crucial.  This posting reminds us that children are young people that have the right of free choice just as much as any one of us.

Freeing Childhood

When we provide children with open ended opportunities and space to explore they uncover the most amazing discoveries.  Discoveries rooted in free thought are hard to come by these days.  In today’s society we often box our children in by scripting their days for them – the wheres, whens, and whys of their daily happenings.  We often decide what they will have for dinner each night, that dance is at 7 on Tuesdays, soccer on Fridays at 5, or that they can or can not bring their princess crown or batman in the car.  Reflecting upon this is very important because do we also want to put our children in boxes when we send them to school?

Traditional child care programs, preschools, and public schools often script a child’s day as well.  They decide when they will they sit at the table for snack, what time the children will do music, if the puzzle can go to the writing table, and even what the daily writing  topic will be about.  Could you imagine someone telling you that you have to wait until 11 to eat breakfast no matter how hungry you are, that you can’t listen to your i-pod while you clean the house, that your flower arrangement can’t be put into the green water pitcher because that pitcher is for holding drinking water, that your sneakers must be tied this way on not that way because that is the way we do it, etc.

The reality is that the future is demanding innovative thinkers and inventors but we are teaching children to only think and do what we wish and what we know.  By not providing them with opportunities to explore their environment and test their own ideas we are saying become followers – become worker bees.  Instead we should be saying be free thinkers, be creative, be innovative – Invent something!  Solve problems!

How do we allow children to become problem solvers or inventors?  We let them have freedom to play, learn, and explore.  These three are interwoven concepts.  It is not that play is separate from learning or learning is separate from play – or exploration is something that is independent of either of these.  Play, learning, and exploration are like grains of sand – you can not sift out one grain from the other.  They coexist together – they are one in the same.  When a child is allowed to dig in the dirt and add water into the mix they are playing.  During this experience they can use containers to experiment with concepts of volume, measurement, and conservation.  They can discover texture, temperature, pressure, movement, colors, and cause and effect as they explore the properties of water and dirt and the relationship that emerges during mud play.

The discoveries children find on their own are more meaningful and last longer because they are owned by their own thinking and being – therefore, each self  discovery and learning experience becomes vitally important to the child.  What is interesting to one makes a greater impression.  So we need to let children read by picking up a book when they are ready, let them come to the table with friends and set their own setting when they feel under undernourished, let them explore math and science with water and blocks, let them climb hills barefoot, paint what they desire and not fill in a coloring page, emerge in the joys of nature, let them play to learn, and learn to play.

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