I grew up in the 1970s and early 80s and enjoyed an education free of a set curriculum, targets and the results-based environment schools face today. Most afternoons in primary school I was free to explore and play with the materials which the teacher had deemed suitable for the day/topic/budget/weather. Many happy hours were spent immersed in kite-making, rocket building, potion making – all without any interruptions from (well-meaning) adults, but with a teacher on hand to question and help with ideas.
It is such a joy to be able to provide our children with some of these very same opportunities and have the luxury of time. Given a fresh supply of craft materials and a wooden construction set, our 4 year old will literally play for hours making mechanisms, labeling them and then building an improved version. I regularly put new items on his desk such as items from the recycling bin, old newspapers, stationary from my desk and any other item I think will provide interest.
Experiments in the back garden have used powdered solids – one of the most interesting substances for older children to play with being cornflour. When powdered cornflour is mixed with water, it forms a liquid which pours, but quickly solidifies if any force is applied to it. Children can make solid forms by pressing, which then turn to liquid as soon as the force is released – great for a game of summer snowballs!
We also like to provide sand on a tray for mark-making and we can use with our older child to practise letter formation.
Whilst I know that many schools try to provide these same opportunities for their pupils, efforts are marred by the emphasis on written recording- and thus allowing a senior member of staff or an OFSTED( private provider of UK Schools) inspection inspector to ‘see’ the progress the children are making in the classroom. As a teacher who has a deep understanding of the necessary process of play and exploration, I found the teaching of many topics very frustrating and time-constrained. The only year group which is still relatively free to play is Reception Class ( Junior Kindergarten), but even they are constrained by testing and an over-emphasis on writing and formal mathematics.
Learning in the home can take place at the child’s pace, develop their interests and passions, and is only limited by the boundaries of meal times. The ‘gold standard’ in education is personalised learning– the ability to tailor each learning experience to every child, something which is extremely difficult in a school. Homeschoolers everywhere, whether it is a permanent lifestyle choice or a temporary necessity due to lockdown rules, should take heart- this is the best opportunity there is for our children to learn and enjoy their education in their own time.