‘Let Them Play’

A little while ago fellow home educator Alice Griffin posted a piece about her home education journey and how their learning can be integrated into everything they do – even sewing. She’s writing on a new topic this time which I’m sure you’ll find inspiring. It’s that difficult feeling we all experience about allowing the kids to learn through play.

Here’s what she says about it in her own words:

“Honestly, let her play, she will learn so much” was the advice offered during my first ever interaction with a home-educating parent “But what about reading and writing?” I questioned, “well, I know my daughter is ready for numbers now as when we take the goats out she says ‘look Mummy, two plus two is four’” said this woman to me about her daughter, who at that point was seven.

Had I been drinking a cup of tea I probably would have spat it out and in my mind all I could think was ‘whaatttt?’ Every traditional thing I had ever known (including being taught to read, write and do sums at age 4) was blown out of the water in that conversation on a Portuguese hillside and I was left wondering, but what does ‘they learn so much through play’ actually mean?

Now, nine years on, it tickles me that I am now that person.

It’s not that I harbour negativity towards my own traditional upbringing, it’s just that I now know there are other ways to learn and my daughter, now not far off 12, is proof of that. Everything she has achieved she has come to with no forcing and with our utmost respect for letting her play and thus, has moved naturally onto next steps.

But it wasn’t always that way… at age 5 when we were new to home-ed and believed we must recreate school, we tried hard to get her to do maths. She would cry and scream and despite buying numerous pretty workbooks, it would always end in nothing but frustration, tears and fallings out. At 6 we decided it was time to ride a bicycle and duly removed the stabilisers, encouraging her to take to her bike and peddle. She stomped her feet, we shouted and agonised before, exasperated we decided that we would put the stabilisers back on and leave it. In fact… during that conversation we pretty much decided to leave off forcing anything, and we have never looked back.

At 8 she came to us – came to us! – asking to do maths. It seems that once she recognised the benefit of being able to work out what you could afford to buy at the shop when with friends, maths became infinitely more appealing. It was around the same time that, when playing in a friend’s garden, she turned to me and said: “you know, I think I’m ready to ride a bike now” and promptly hopped on her friend’s bike and cycled off, leaving me open-mouthed and laughing. All that pressure and heartache and there she was, cycling around as if she’d always done it.

Earlier this year she announced she was going to write a book. Even in my now fairly relaxed knowledge of her coming to things when it’s the right time, I’d been secretly worrying about when she might start writing and spelling a bit more. “I just feel I want to write now so I’m going to just put the words down and then you can correct them” and together, we have watched her love for the written word blossom. Right now it’s requests for science workbooks and Portuguese courses so that she can work towards her current dream of being a wildlife biologist studying wolves… and that’s after years of letting her run around with a tail on just being a wolf.

So, if I could say something to myself seven years ago it would be, ‘let her play, shower her with love and support, surround her with books and look at everything as a learning opportunity… and please don’t worry’ and if your child works in a different way (which they will!), I would say ‘trust your instinct and know that when you spend time with your children and really know them, you will see the route to take’ and if, on that journey, you meet a home-educating parent who extols the value of learning through play; please listen… and try to not spit out your tea.

Alice Griffin is a home-educating mum and writer living between the UK and open road.




8 thoughts on “‘Let Them Play’

  1. Pingback: Let Them Play – Alice in Wanderland

  2. Hello Ross, I guess I’m still spitting out my tea a little… I’ve been home schooling my 6 year old for 3 years now and it’s so hard not to worry about something so important as your childs life but your blog (for want of a more respectful word) has given me a little of that much needed confidence that I am on the right path. Thankyou, Simon.

    • Thanks so much Simon – really appreciate you telling me! It’s great to know it’s helping. I wonder if you’d find the ‘Home Education Notebook’ a help for those spitting moments too! I had many of them! 😉 All the best.

      • Hi Ross, thanks for replying, I think I might be buying a few books from here but I am seeking guidance on a current issue regarding my family, sisters, parents etc, who don’t understand and are completely against this. I am often confronted with sweeping statements such as “your child is going to be lacking social skills” “you shouldn’t mix children of different ages because they will be vulnerable to abuse and pick up habits more acceptable for older children” “How will they be hardened up to face their adult life?” and so on!
        Unfortunately, although I am a music tutor and have good communication skills, due to my upbringing and school life, (ironically? I don’t think so !) I am not good at debate/confrontation and feel I would deal with it better if I had more eloquent ammunition to “tango” with them 🙂
        I am also vegan, and the parallels of conflict are very similiar! Any guidance on this matter would be gratefully received. Regards, Simon.

      • Hi Simon, I totally get what you’re saying. I think many HE readers here will too – it’s a common problem – the ignorance of non-HEors! In answer to the social issue – there isn’t one. And what the heck makes people think the school battleifield is a good place for kids to learn social skills – basically with a bunch of others who don’t have them!? This post might help; https://rossmountney.wordpress.com/2013/07/01/weird-social-behaviour-and-baked-beans/ It is also socially bizarre and totally abnormal (look at society) to confine and restrict kids from interacting with others of ALL ages as is normal out in the real world! Kids learn good things from one another too and most HE groups are tolerant and compassionate demonstrations of good social behaviour unlike the playground! People are so blind and often trot our these ignorant misconceptions so I shouldn’t take notice. As for hardening up for adult life?? School is NOTHING like adult life – or hadn’t they noticed? And children become independent and confident in getting out there in their adult life by beig supported and nurtured until they’re ready to do so, as THOUSANDS of HE youngsters now do – Uni, work, businesses etc!
        I know all this is easy for me to say. I wonder have you connected to any of the Facebook HE groups (HEUK for example) where you can pose a question and get loads of amunition? It can be helpful. And my HE Notebook is full of it too (you can always order it from the library if you don’t want to buy). Meanwhile I hope this helps. Don’t forget that most people are totally ignorant about how kids learn (including some teachers and certainly relatives!!!) and very narrow minded and will spout any statements to keep you from doing what you’re doing because it challenges what they believe – no one likes that unless they’re very open minded. Stick to what you believe is right for you and your child.
        All the best 🙂

  3. This is so similar to our story. I had been a teacher so I had very set views.on how it was supposed to be done. I have had to unlearn so much and adopt a whole new way of approaching education. It’s truly astounding how when they are ready, the learning just happens.

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