Tag Archives: Maria Montessori

In awe of playing

12 Sep
free play

Children should be allowed to make decisions and take risks when playing

I had a conversation with a group of mostly young people working in preschools. The topic of the conversation was play, and more specifically, outside free play. Considering the wide acceptance of the benefits of play, and vigorous outside play, I was perturbed to hear that:

  1. There are not enough teachers to supervise outside play (in some of these schools the ratio is 30/1).
  2. There is not enough physical space and equipment for the number of children playing. On most of these playgrounds trees have been removed as a “safety measure”.
  3. There is very little space for ball play and the typical fantasy play boys participate in, e.g. robbers and good guys, cowboys and crooks, running around with wooden guns and building places to hide in with tyres and blocks.
  4. In one school the boys are prohibited from playing rough games “because they might hurt the girls”.

There are several consequences arising from these circumstances. Some of these consequences are very serious and many of them have a long-term effect on the well-being of our young men. In the above mentioned discussion, considerable time was spent on the level of aggression among these preschool boys (but also the level of meanness among the preschool girls).

General aggression on playgrounds is not an automatic indication that there is something wrong at home – although this could be the case in isolated instances. General aggression on the playground is usually an indication of the health of the preschool programme and the relationships within that programme.

Maria Montessori said that we must follow the child when planning our programme. We are today in a privileged position as far as knowledge of children’s needs and learning is concerned. None of this is guess work. We know exactly what a good programme should look like and what the teachers should do to promote maximum learning and participation in any preschool.

The sad thing is that money and status have very little to do with what happens in a preschool. Parents tend to be dazzled by the bling in the classroom (We used to call it “window dressing” when I was young.) I must say, I do get a little impatient with parents who do not do thorough research before placing their babies, toddlers and young children in outside care. After all, raising your child is one of the most important and enduring things you will undertake in your life. Just the financial implications should be enough to make you do some research before you make the decision where to place your child. A researcher once said the decision to place your child somewhere, means that you are giving the responsibility for the development of your child’s potential, future success and lifelong well-being, over to someone else. Most of us will not even do that when we are buying a car!

We know today that vigorous movement and imaginary play are the two developmental necessities for the development of reading, writing and maths in the primary school. More than that, imaginative game play develops symbolic thinking. Symbolic thinking cannot develop while playing digital games or sitting in front of the television, or by colouring in or completing worksheets. Symbolic thinking includes things like the ability to form relationships, empathy, reading a book and feeling the emotions of the characters in the book.

The other important aspect of learning is the fact that young children need the opportunity to be involved in their own learning. Self-initiated learning is, according to 3 separate research projects, a better indication of academic success and success in adult life than high marks or a high IQ. Self-initiated learning is what happens when young children can plan their own games, use their bodies to take risks, make mistakes and try again.

I want to stand on the corner of the world’s streets and shout: “Let the children play!”

Let us declare play the holy grail of childhood; untouchable, something to look at in awe. We are wasting our children’s learning time if they do not have ample opportunity to play.