Week 9 – Day 56 of Homeschooling in the Middle East – Free Play vs Enrichment Activities

FOREWORD: If you are new to homeschoolingmiddleeast, welcome! I highly recommend that you start reading from ‘Day 1’. The fastest way to access this is to look for ‘Archives’ on the right hand side of the home page, click on ‘February 2012’ and scroll down to the bottom of the page that opens. If you want a quick first visit, you could type a term e.g. ‘socialization’ or ‘university’, into the ‘Search’ box or of course you could just read my latest posts without doing anything! Why I recommend starting at Day 1 is because this is an adventure into homeschooling that is not yet 3 months old and the journey has been a rollercoaster  – philosophically and emotionally, catalogued daily for the first couple of months. For you to get the full intellectual and dramatic impact, it’s best to start at the beginning. You might be contemplating home educating and wonder what those early nail-biting days feel like or you might enjoy reading somebody else’s take on an experience you share with me, or you might be more generally interested in my thoughts and feelings on education and parenting. Whatever the reason you’re reading, I’m really humbled that you’re taking your valuable time to do so and I really hope I can be some kind of hope or inspiration for you. Thank you! Now for today’s post…

Socialization. This is a topic for everyone with kids! I’ve written quite a bit about this. And it’s a majorly hot topic in home education; as we go into our 9th week of home schooling I can tell you that it’s the one most non-homeschoolers (i.e. 99.9% of people I know) have real issues with – the belief that we’re socially isolating our kids. But, with regards to socialization, the trials and tribulations we have as homeschoolers are very similar to those whose kids go to school.

Most ‘expat’ families in Bahrain, in fact possibly most who live in the Gulf, live in villas on compounds, certainly not all; some live in apartments, some in villas that don’t share facilities the way compound villas do. We are really lucky that without having to make any effort, we have a bunch of kids on our doorstep. This is similar to kids in most places in the world who have ‘neighbourhood kids’ to play with. But it’s like a jungle out there! I don’t mean literally, trust me that despite the fact we are blessed to live on probably the greenest compound in the country, this is one arid climate. No, what I mean is that those kids can be cruel to each other, just like in most neighbourhoods. So, it’s a great socialization exercise, especially since it’s relatively safe in that I am, after all, however preoccupied, in the near vicinity to manage any ‘situations’. But I try to let the kids get on with such ‘situations’ as a part of learning to deal with other kids.

‘Compound kids’ are mixed age and gender, the same as ‘neighbourhood kids’. Having a mix is beneficial on so many levels. Of course in our case the kids all go to school, so we try to revolve our flexible schedule around their more inflexible one – but we do seem to find that we wait for each afternoon with baited breath to see if anyone wants to/can play. It’s a bit cruel on my kids. They just have so much more free time available, that I don’t want to stuff with other activities, because both they, and I, want them to enjoy outside ‘free’ or ’child-driven’ play more than anything else. I really believe that outside free play is the ultimate learning experience. But the fact this time is so anticipated makes it harder to cope when it’s not plain-sailing (almost especially for me, who’s heart breaks alongside theirs, day in and day out).

There are the obvious health benefits including the fact that outside play is active and it helps children get their daily dose of Vitamin D. But it’s the social benefits of free play that are even more interesting, especially if it’s play that’s driven by the imagination. Playing organized games just doesn’t give the same opportunities as free play. But don’t just take my word for it, the American Academy for Pediatrics has a lengthy article on the subject at http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/119/1/182.full

“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…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.” And I end with this, “Perhaps above all, play is a simple joy that is a cherished part of childhood.” I couldn’t agree more and this article isn’t just about young children.

Every day, my 7 year old son, but often also my 4 year old daughter, has to negotiate some tricky friendship situations. Like many, if not most kids everywhere, the kids on our compound are competitive. Each vies to be the most impressive in whatever subject/sport they are participating in. There is, of course, an assumption that age confers a degree of natural superiority. The older kids like to feel they have the monopoly on the ‘knowing-it-all-ness’. As is quite usual during our recent homeschooling days, my son and I have been getting really excited about the wonders of the universe, and we’re watching a DVD by that name. It’s not aimed at 7 year olds and is pretty complicated, but brilliantly presented, and Edward finds is absolutely fascinating, as do I. So it leads to some interesting discussions and a bit of further research/fact checking. Edward took his enthusiasm outside today and shared it with his older friends. They, unfortunately, didn’t see this as the pure enthusiasm of a younger home educated boy but as a challenge to their superiority. Soon enough Edward came running back inside the house shouting with frustration, “He doesn’t believe me! He doesn’t believe there are new planets! Where’s the book! I’ll show him!” He quickly found it and grasped it to his chest as he pelted outside again. But not long later he drooped back inside, not just frustrated but disappointed, and somewhat shocked saying, “He’s lying! I can’t believe he’s lying! Now he’s saying he did believe me all along!” I’m afraid I didn’t ask him to disbelieve the evidence of his ears, as awful as it was that a ‘friend’ lied to him, but explained that the older boy didn’t unfortunately have the face to admit that he didn’t know better than a 7 year old. I said that instead the older boy should have said, “Wow! Thanks, Edward! I never knew that, how interesting.” And that people who are happy inside themselves (i.e. with secure egos) readily do this and that I always hoped he would.

Coincidentally, I actually had the opportunity to model this at suppertime when Edward and I were looking at a book that seemed to show the Earth as the nearest planet to the sun. When I pointed this out, Edward said that Earth was the third nearest planet to the sun and that Mercury was the first. He tried to show me how the diagram did in fact show this. “But”, I said, “this diagram clearly shows it’s the closest!” I was very sure of myself (based on my interpretation of the diagram because I hadn’t retained any memory of the planets’ order despite probably being tested on it several times at school!) but wanted not to overrule him just on the basis of him being a kid and so I wholeheartedly agreed to check my fact out – not his fact, this I was careful about – my fact. I was so glad I put it this way!  He was right of course. I was so glad that although I felt sure I was right, I agreed there was a very good chance that he was, and he was, of course, delighted to have been proved so. I was very gracious and said that I wasn’t at all surprised that he was right. He absolutely beamed with pleasure. Funnily enough, I didn’t associate the two events but as I write this, I realize that I had modeled exactly the mature behavior the older boy should have shown; that everyone can learn from anyone, regardless of age and to be gracious about doing so.

I did feel a twinge of sorrow for the older boy though because his certainty probably came from the fact that ‘he had learnt this at school’ and being a typical schooled kid hadn’t maintained enough of an independent interest in the subject to notice or care about new developments in space exploration. If it wasn’t on the current or recent test paper, it was out of mind. How sad that schooled kids have to focus so intently on whatever’s coming up in a test to the exclusion of all else and when the test is past that so much is forgotten to make way for information required to pass the next test – plenty has been written, including by me, on the way kids forget whatever they’ve learned for a test. I’ve lived it. I know it; that despite my very privileged education, my excellent exam results, I am ashamed at what I’ve forgotten compared to what I know now after being really interested in something. But kids these days don’t realize yet what they don’t know. They think if they’ve achieved a good exam result in something, they are practically experts! And that if you haven’t got a good exam result or if you haven’t yet been examined on it (for instance, because you haven’t ‘got to it’ at school yet) you’re an ignoramus!

Sometimes I worry that I’m doing the right thing, leaving the kids with minimum supervision other than that I can see them pretty clearly. Yes I can see them, but I can’t hear them. I have no idea what those kids are talking about. I trust they are well brought up and that they aren’t abusing the trust parents of younger children have in the older children. I’m sure it’s fine. But today was a good lesson for Edward, even though a frustrating one, even if a lesson is sometimes in how NOT to behave!

How do you manage compound/neighbourhood kids? Have much do you supervise the content of your kids’ ‘free/child driven’ play? Or do you prefer your kids’ activities to be the ‘enrichment’/scheduled kind? Is this in part to avoid the kind of conflict ‘free’ play forces kids to deal with? I’d love to hear how I could do better!

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About homeschoolingpenny

Hi and welcome! My name is Penny and I used to live in Bahrain but In November 2012 moved to Dubai and now we live in Granada, Spain! If you want to contact me my email is pjmontford@hotmail.com. I recommend you start my blog on 'Day 1' but please enjoy whatever you dip into. 23 February 2012 marked the first day of no more school FOREVER for my two kids. Edward, who is nearly 10 had attended a variety of schools since he was very little. Petra, who is now 6, has never gone to school. On this date we decided Edward was never going back to school and Petra never would go to school. We hope to successfully homeschool from this day forward, although we would consider an alternative school as an option- if there was some amazing Sudbury or other really alternative school. Actually, I prefer the term 'home learning' than 'homeschool' because I don't like to think of school coming into our home. In fact, I hope to go further and guide/learn alongside, rather than teach, my kids using the 'unschooling' philosophy to instill a lifelong love of learning in them. We lived in the Middle East and now Spain all of which are very challenging places to home educate. This is an exciting journey that I used to blog about regularly, at first it was on an almost daily basis. Please join me on our travels and I hope we might be able to help each other out along the way. I certainly hope I can be a source of support and comfort and, in time, knowledge to all potential/presently participating homeschoolers/home educators/unschoolers. Good luck to us all! If you want to read about why I started home educating, why I pulled my son out of a 'very good' private school mid-term, how I felt at the very start and how my philosophy has evolved, please start from 'Day 1' of the blog. Please do post comments at the end of any days that you read. Your opinion is valuable and it's great to start up debate amongst other people commenting too, however old the post. Thank you for visiting homeschoolingmiddleeast.
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5 Responses to Week 9 – Day 56 of Homeschooling in the Middle East – Free Play vs Enrichment Activities

  1. Hmmm, I think you’re doing great Penny. I have no clear advice to give you though because I am not yet in the situation and don’t know how I would react, but I think that I will have minimum supervision when I feel that my kids are in a community that won’t abuse them and they themselves apprehend the ethics of socialization.
    Good luck

    • The problem is, can any community of kids be entirely trusted, including my own to be fair? I don’t mean necessarily that kids are all vicious, although judging from behaviour in most playgrounds it’s not always pretty but that there are a lot of misunderstandings/miscommunications which can be hurtful too. It’s a really hard one to call because I don’t want to be a ‘helicopter’ parent either – too mollycoddling!

  2. I prefer free play at home so the kids can choose what interests them on any given day. But when my children are outside with the neighborhood kids, they need structure. We have younger (3 and 4 year olds) as well as older (15) kids so the level of maturity and skill varies greatly. With organized play, everyone can enjoy the activity and be included.

    I’m also finding that we struggle to deal with bad behavior. One or two children are accused of misbehaving even when they haven’t done anything wrong. My husband and I try to teach our children right from wrong, but we still need to supervise somewhat in order to protect everyone.

    • I agree that with a variety of ages it can be tricky to leave them to it. And you’re right, they do accuse each other of things that didn’t happen – either on purpose or because they’ve genuinely misunderstood and that can be hard on the falsely accused!

  3. I have nominated you for the Versatile Blogger award. Thank you for writing!

    http://studentsathome.wordpress.com/2012/04/20/versatile-blogger-award/

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