“Our highest endeavor must be to develop free human beings who are able of themselves to impart purpose and direction to their lives. The need for imagination, a sense of truth, and a feeling of responsibility—these three forces are the very nerve of education.” ~ Rudolf Steiner This quote has been a pivotal influence in my life as a mom, teacher, and homeschooling momma. I remember stumbling upon it when I first left the public school system and began looking into alternative educational philosophies. I wasn't a mom at the time, but even as "just" a teacher, I knew that Steiner's words resonated and were just as relevant now in modern day society, as they were when he first wrote them nearly 100 years before. I knew that the human beings that Steiner was describing was what I wanted for my students. And when I became a mom, I wanted it for my children. Purpose and direction... isn't that something we all yearn for at some point in our lives?
Children need to find their own purpose, and I truly believe the only way to allow them to find it is to simply let them be bored. Give them time. Give them space. After working with countless children in our old forest school programs, and our own boys, my husband and I have come up a "Magic 20 Minute Theory". Basically you simply have to let your children be bored, let them complain and drive you crazy for 20 minutes! Then simply watch the magic unfold... children will magically come up with an amazing, imaginative, creative game to play. Whenever our boys inform us that they're bored, Mitch and I celebrate the announcement because it means they're on the verge of something incredible. While the kids sit bored, it's important for us adults to be focused and engaged in purposeful work. Work that isn't on a computer screen or a phone, but work that is witnessed and recognized by little eyes. Sweeping the floor, or prepping a meal, or weeding the garden, or shovelling the walkway are all great examples of purposeful work. Children find comfort in the rhythm of our work. They are always interested in what we adults are doing, and often want to join in to help. It's important that we let them.
I also truly believe, that children know when you give them busy work... you know, the kind of "work" you give your kids just to keep them out of your hair so you can the "real" work done quickly and efficiently. Kids are pretty smart. They'll see right through the task at hand. They want to be included. They want to have a purpose and contribute too. Giving kids chores and responsibilities isn't cruel, it's comforting to them!
I am not a player. I have always struggled to play with my kids. But purposeful work is something I find joy in. I love seeing the fruits of my labour. I love working towards a goal. This joy and positive energy that I have is felt by the boys. They are often content to go play independently, and solve their own problems when they know I am working on a certain task. They learn so much through play. Play is so important to optimal child development that it has been recognized by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights as a right of every child.
The benefits of unstructured play are endless, but here's a brief excerpt from a report by Kenneth R. Ginsburg, MD, MS Ed: "Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. Play is important to healthy brain development. It is through play that children at a very early age engage and interact in the world around them. Play allows children to create and explore a world they can master, conquering their fears while practicing adult roles, sometimes in conjunction with other children or adult caregivers. As they master their world, play helps children develop new competencies that lead to enhanced confidence and the resiliency they will need to face future challenges. Undirected play allows children to learn how to work in groups, to share, to negotiate, to resolve conflicts, and to learn self-advocacy skills. When play is allowed to be child driven, children practice decision-making skills, move at their own pace, discover their own areas of interest, and ultimately engage fully in the passions they wish to pursue.... In contrast to passive entertainment, play builds active, healthy bodies. In fact, it has been suggested that encouraging unstructured play may be an exceptional way to increase physical activity levels in children, which is one important strategy in the resolution of the obesity epidemic. Perhaps above all, play is a simple joy that is a cherished part of childhood. " Sadly, most children in today's world aren't getting enough time to play. Read that again.... most children do not have time to play! I don't know about you but that breaks my heart.
Before I wrap this up I have to touch on the "sense of truth" aspect of the original Steiner quote shared above. Please, parents and teachers, allow your young children the opportunity to decide for themselves what is true or not. Let them have the magic and wonder of fairies and gnomes, ghosts and goblins, Santa and the Tooth Fairy. Not seeing the magic and joy that lights up little faces is something I can't fathom. When the kids grow up I think they'll be able to find it in their hearts to forgive you for your white lies. The other day I came across this amazing quote by Kylene Beers that says, "While teaching kids to answer questions might be important, teaching them to question answers is absolutely critical." It is through this process that they will find the own sense of truth that will guide them and shape them into free human beings. So, to my fellow parents, and fellow teachers... let your kids be kids. Let them play; let them make choices for themselves; let them take risks; let them believe; let them ask the tough questions; and simply, let them be free.