Saturday, 22 November 2014

Free Time and Imaginative Play

It can be easy to forget just how valuable both free time and imaginative play can be.  Curriculum sometimes seems to be coming out of my ears!  I can be easily drawn into trying to prove to non-home educators that what we are doing at home is "worthwhile", not remembering that a lot of school time is devoted to play too (never minding all the waiting in line or for teachers/other children, and that all of this only takes place between 9-3 for 5 days a week anyway.)  Our weekly timetable has "free time" marked out, but even still, I get into the habit of thinking of it as only letting off steam and not as valuable learning in its own right.

The various ways in which the children choose to spend their free time can help them develop their own interests and also help me to develop activities for them around these. For example...

Free time involves anything the children want to do, even if this sometimes means watching CBeebies (though this has educational merits of its own.)  The corresponding website often has activities or games related to the programmes suitable for the age group.  Whereas BBC Bitesize feels like work, even though it is more fun than textbooks, CBeebies games feel like their own time. 

Very often, free time means imaginative play all together.  The children invent their own world and scenarios to play out... lining up shoes for a shoe shop, while another designs library tickets for her own library of bookshelves, another serving up strange concoctions on the toy kitchen which has become a café , and we end up with a whole town!

Often, it means going outside in the garden.  We invested in play apparatus and you can find great offers on sites such as Freegle and Freecycle.  The children like to dig up old china and display it for an "exhibition", or mix inedible soups of leaves by poking at pots with sticks, or make bug hotels, or look for a garden creatures and give them all ordinary-sounding names (it is so hard not to chuckle when I am informed, "Paula and Ryan (woodlice) are going to visit Jean (a slug), look!") or count how many skips they can make with their skipping ropes.  So many skills and interests can be developed in this sort of play outdoors.  It can be tempting to introduce some learning that I think that they should be doing while they are out there, but I try my best to hold back.  I keep the idea their activities have sparked and we will do it at the appropriate lesson time instead.  This means they can play uninterrupted and also have a great outdoors science lesson the next day for example.

Occasionally, free time sees the children engage in something that I might have set them as "work", but they have decided to learn about or create something through their own desire.  My eldest has written us a nonsense poem this morning, and we were given a magic show that had been set up for us.  On one evening this week, one of my children asked to attend a community duty and the following meeting with me.  On Tuesday evening, one spent 2.5 hours in the library of her own volition to research birds in an encyclopaedia from the reference section, sketching a picture of her favourite and surrounding it with facts.  Someone might want to learn a new song on the piano.  Or draw a picture of somewhere we visited.  Or design a new practical invention.  Or create a recipe...

It goes beyond textbooks.  Because mighty oaks can't grow from textbooks alone...

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