Why “Let Them Play” Is a Disservice to Early Education



When I taught school (preschool, Pre-K, and Kindergarten) it was the norm for parents with young children to begin to think about education from early on in the child’s life. We expected the majority of parents to begin to look at both pre- and full-day schools around their child’s second year, and our school started to accept them into a first year program at age 2 1/2.

Deciding to homeschool my own daughter came around that same time frame. I started to look into how to teach your own child, what kinds of methods we could use, and how to recognize her abilities and limitations. I reached out to various homeschool communities online — blogs, Facebook, message boards — and was a bit surprised at the response I received. Instead of encouraging me to start reading and working with her on age-appropriate skills, I was repeatedly told to “stop pushing her” and “let her play, she’s only little once.” Anyone who didn’t homeschool was horrified that at the age of 2, I’d consider replicating a school setting — which wasn’t my intention at all.

I couldn’t understand why this type of research, preparation, and questioning was perfectly acceptable for public and privately schooled children, but when it came to a homeschooled child it was viewed as though I was rushing her and trying to control her from an early age.

As a planner, this didn’t deter me for long. I learned to leave out my daughter’s age in my questions and to preface things with, “I was a teacher” which seemed to afford me a lot more leeway than other parents. Yet throughout the years my inbox, choices, and even personal writing, has been under scrutiny from other parents. I’ve seen newer parents experience the same kind of brush off time and again.

While I certainly understand the encouragement to let a child be a child, to let them play and experience a rich variety of learning on their own, I also see a few problems with this being a catch-all phrase so many of us toss around to parents new to homeschooling.

The majority of these parents are not interested in putting their children in a mini-school at home. They aren’t setting up desks and teaching cursive along with potty training. Parents who are asking questions are curious, perhaps even a bit intimidated by teaching their own child. They start early so that they can have a grasp on what this entails before their child reaches an age of more formal learning. Our country requires 4 or more years of school to become a teacher, so why would we ask our parents to wait until their child is school age to gather the same information — at least publicly?

The benefits of early education are abounding — but even more important is having parents involved and knowledgeable from as early as possible:

“A child’s early pre-school and kindergarten years are the time in which the most growth, development and learning occurs … This is a critical educational period since these early experiences will set the tone for the child’s interaction and learning for the rest of his or her life.” — HomeschoolAcademy.com

Whether you plan to homeschool or send your child to school, most of us at some point will introduce a learning structure into our children’s lives. Encouraging a culture that cherishes and fosters a strong educational background in parents is a gift we can give our children. Instead of brushing off these questions with the common, “Just let them play” response, dive deeper into what this parent is searching for. Books to read? Curriculum to look through? A mentor? How they can incorporate structure slowly?

Of course, children should play — as much as possible. As they do, let’s give these eager parents something to prepare for and become confident in.

Image courtesy of ThinkStock


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