Sunday, 21 October 2012

Work or play?

In the next week or so, I want to think a little about academic achievement in early childhood; that is to say before the age of four or five. I have told readers before that my daughter was reading at fifteen months and was fluent by two years and three months. This is very early and many people, particularly education professionals, were horrified about what I was doing. It would cause the child to develop an aversion to literacy, I was not considering ‘reading readiness’, it was cruel to push a baby in this way and a hundred other objections. They were of course idiots and the reason that they adopted this foolish position was because they had created in their own minds a dichotomy between learning and play.

In fact of course, children learn through play and do so almost from the moment of birth. This is only natural; mammals in general play and this often the way in which the young of a species gain the vital skills that they will need as adults. In lions, for example, this can take the form of mock fights and pretend ambushes among the cubs. With humans, this same process can be guided to encourage the young human to acquire the literacy and mathematical ability which will be indispensable in later life.

I have not the time adequately to explore this thesis today, but hope to do so over the course of the next few days. I am frantically busy at the moment with revising a book. When I wrote a book on the 1970s earlier this year, it seemed a great idea to give it the sub-title; When flares were cool and Jim could fix it. This would hardly be what one wish to appear on the cover of any book following recent revelations and so the cover and some of the book will need to be changed before publication in the spring, which is exceedingly time-consuming.


  1. OT to post, but thought you might be interested given past topics.

    Home schooling ‘a healthy option’, says Bucks pupil who aced A-levels and got into Cambridge aged 16

  2. Ah, thanks, Simon, you've explained something that was puzzling me. When my 2 stalk each other round the house and go looking for a squabble they are actually honing their inner lion skills and practising socialisation. Presumably, as in 'how far can I push someone before I get thumped' training.

    Also, I'm assuming the 'I'm not going to let him/her be better than me at something' is actually them harnessing the inner lion to help their education.

    And there I was thinking they were being little horrors...

  3. I basically agree with you on this issue, I think, but possibly disagree about what the adult guidance should look like. When I assisted in my daughter's reception classroom much of what was on offer was similar to what we had always done at home - art and craft, construction toys, number games and so on. But the difference was about the level of control and the emphasis on 'product'. A successful outcome was, it seemed to me, thought to be one where the child made the requested object or appeared to learn a small, defined fact. These tasks were called 'jobs', which made me cringe. At home we got out the string, for example, and saw what happened. One of my fondest memories is of daughter constructing an enormous loop of string and ribbons that went out of an upstairs window and back in a downstairs one. Then there were cable cars and pulleys and plaiting and on and on... We were always pretty involved parents and did, I'm sure, guide towards new understanding and skills, but the direction of enquiry was decided by our children. For me, the real issue with schools for little ones is the lack of adults. This means that there is not enough flexibility and learning opportunities have to be squashed for practical reasons. But, yes, the silly labelling of some learning as 'work' is damaging, I think.

  4. Play is work and work is play. There are some interesting papers on this. The Foundation phase in Wales states that 'children do not discriminate between work and play and neither should practitioners'. Research also suggests that children do discriminate between work and play and that work is something, which happens when an adult is involved. Given that the experts can't make up their minds and that there is no one true definition of play it is safer to just 'look at the child'. They will reveal their true nature.

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