To play or not to play, that is the question!

 By Louise Gilbert, Mama of Liam and Bella

Last week, I was glancing through photos from when I was pregnant with my son.  Reminiscing about that special time we mothers experience, when baby is cocooned safely inside, away from the world and all its problems. Reminiscing about rubbing my plump little Buddha belly. LOL. I can love that belly now! Now, that I don’t have to wiggle this way and that, flopping about in bed like a beached whale, trying to get comfortable so that I can sleep…..

Sorry. I digress.

So many dreams and plans for that little baby. 9 months of dreamin’ and a’plannin! Oh my, was I going to have the smartest, cleverest, most head stuffed full of factoids toddler in the whole wide world!

5 months pregnant and I was online surfing the Institute of Human Potential’s website. There I was, buying up flashcards and crawling tracks and books like “Teach your baby to read”. By the time my son arrived on this planet I had a library’s worth of information to stuff into that poor little guy’s head the minute he popped out!

Fast forward 4 years to the present time. Great Oak School. Parent-Child Class. Said son playing delightedly with wooden trucks and old fashioned peg men, accompanied of course by the appropriate “brrrmm, brrmm” sounds where necessary. Not a desk or blackboard with alphabets and numbers in sight! Two girls (including my daughter) at the table with their teacher humming and singing “Knead the dough, knead the dough” whilst they make bread. Another little boy is stacking blocks into an arch and placing little animals around to walk under the ‘bridge’. Children are outside with buckets and spades ‘cooking’ in the dirt. Some swinging under the giant oak trees. They are all lost in their imaginations. Lost in a magical world where children can be children and we allow their natural curiosity to be their guide to learning. It is so beautiful and I am so grateful that I discovered the work of Rudolf Steiner. Grateful that we discovered Great Oak School.

I used to believe that if I stuffed a child’s head full of information and facts that I was actually helping him to reach his potential. I was teaching him ideas that would make him ‘smart’. I have now come to realize, however, that each child is already born a genius, with an innate desire to learn and discover. Children will teach themselves anything and everything, as long as we adults just stand back, allow them to flourish and share guidance when they need it. Give them space and time to do their thing – their genius will remain intact, they will continue to use their imagination to think outside the box.

Imagination and thinking outside the box is how people like Einstein and Shakespeare and Mozart and Michelangelo changed the world. They were great thinkers with GREAT imagination. Imagination for sure, is the most important quality we need for solving our world’s great challenges. For as Einstein once observed, it is not through thinking at the level that the problem was created that the problem will be solved. We must think beyond this. We must think beyond what already exists, beyond the books, beyond the classrooms. We must use our imaginations. We must develop creativity. We must cultivate creativity. This is where the answers lie. For if we stifle these innate human qualities at a young age, at my son’s age, how then will they develop and grow and flourish? How then will our children solve the great problems that the generations before them have created? If I am intent on filling my child’s head with facts and figures and letters at a tender age where imagination and creativity are at its height, how then will he continue to develop that imagination and creativity? His head will be so crammed with external ideas (none of which have solved the world’s challenges up ‘til now) that there will be no room for his own inner activity, his own discovery and creation of something out of nothing.

For all these reasons and more, our children’s imagination needs to be cherished and nurtured and loved and most of all, respected. We need to recognize it as the genius within each of us. Where the answers to the world’s challenges lie. THIS is why play for the young child is so important. And this is why I love Waldorf education. Where free play and imagination is valued. Where the child is allowed the time to discover for himself. Where the magic of childhood continues to thrive. Where new answers, born of the imagination, will emerge…..

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