A Few Good Moms: Can you handle the truth about play-based learning?

The family that learns to play together, stays together
The family that learns to play together, stays together

The mom makes the rounds through the family room and kitchen, picking up empty cups and plates and gathering dirty laundry. As she rounds the corner she runs into her son, who is holding a basketball. “Have you started your homework?” she asks briskly, and watches disappointment cloud his face as he sets down the ball and reaches for his book bag.

You want the truth about play-based learning? I think you can handle it.

If you are like me, you probably find it annoying when folks tell you to lighten up, relax, have fun, enjoy your family. Don’t forget: These are the best days of your life!

No kidding, I mutter as I scrub mud off the bottom of someone’s school shoes or clean up dog pee because no one heard her crying at the door to go out. Or forgo that shower yet again because if I don’t leave in the next 5 minutes I won’t get to the bus in time for pick up, and then our entire afternoon and evening will collapse like a house of cards.

I especially love when my family members implore me to Chill out, when all evidence suggests that they really want me to toil endlessly like a middle-aged Cinderella seething with bitterness. How else do you explain the constant sabotage of my momentarily clean house and optimistically organized sane schedule?

Having said that, I have a suggestion for you (and for me):

Lighten up. Relax. Have fun. Enjoy your family.

I remember signing my kids up for pre-school at our church, loving the fact that their program embraced a play-based approach to the curriculum and the structure of the school. The idea that young kids needed to be immersed in play during that window of time, versus super rigorous academic pursuits, really resonated with me. It made perfect sense that this environment would strengthen their imaginations, their fine motor abilities, and their social skills.

At Parent’s Night the director of the school quoted research that affirmed this style instruction (studies showing that by third grade it was impossible to distinguish who began reading at an extremely early age, for example) but that assertion really wasn’t necessary for me. It just felt right to protect that precious window of time and to fill it with the exquisite things of childhood, knowing that it would be impossible to revisit that distinctive spot of time once we were further down the road.

Now I realize that lesson was not a pre-school specific one. I am beginning to see that each stage of life offers precious fleeting windows of time. Those of us who bear the burden of keeping the family machine cranking away are understandably immersed in the logistics, the schedule, and the work of it. This is important . . . but it is not everything.

Now that they are getting bigger, I wonder what is going to stick with them. What will they remember? What will keep them coming back to me, once they are grown and gone? That the counters were wiped down and the clutter put away? Seems unlikely. They claim they don’t see the mess, and actually, that would explain a lot.

We need to learn to play together.

Perhaps there is time in this day to put away the vacuum cleaner, shut off the computer, leave the bills unopened and instead go throw a football or walk to get ice cream or learn how to long board. (Ok, maybe forget that last one – I am envisioning a full-body cast with me in it. We don’t need this kumbaya moment spinning into full chaos).

It is a surprising reality that embracing play is sometimes harder than embracing work, but the truth is, the family that learns to play together, stays together . . . in a sweet space filled with fun.

Want to get a better handle on learning to play as a family? Read about Trip Advisor’s top ten things to do in Charlotte, bond while cheering on your Carolina Panthers, and if you are interested in real play-based learning for your little one, check out Fundanoodle!