It is a common concern among parents and even some educators, that by giving the children space to play, we are not preparing them for the “structure” of school and the real world. But letting them play does not mean there is no structure.
Almost each and every day is structured with routine beyond their control. When to get dressed and brush their teeth, when to get in the car and get to daycare, when and what to eat for snacks, lunch and dinner, when to nap, when to get ready for the park, when to put sunscreen, etc.
So, when we let kids play for only 1.5-2 hours interrupted (after morning snack and before lunch,) and an educator/parent says it needs to be structured, what do they really mean?
Generally, it means control. Many adults are uncomfortable with the thought of handing over some control to a child. They are often scared of the thought a child being involved in conflict. They are scared of messes and bad decisions. By micromanaging a children’s time, they alleviate their own discomfort.
But is that what is best for the children? If they are sheltered from conflict, how do they learn the social skills to deal with conflict? If we don’t let them make some messes, how will they learn the responsibility of their actions? If we don’t let them make mistakes, how will they learn problem solving and perseverance?
When the eductor constantly has the children sitting at the table, all doing the same activity, the child isn’t given the option to learn all those skills. Instead, the child is learning to be obedient. And often, they are even learning to hate learning. Imagine having to fill in a stencil against your will at four-years-old, when your hand muscles aren’t even ready for it?
That obedience may be easier for us, as adults, but is that really what we should want for our children? Do we want them to be obedient adults who do what they are told when they are told? Is that a quality that prepares them for the real world?
Obedience isn’t the goal we have for the kids in our care. We want them to make the right choices because they are respectful people and critical thinkers. We want them to start school with a love and eagerness to learn. We want them to be self-confident, self-sufficient, and self-motivated. We want them to be innovators. We want them to change the world!
All that, and more, is what the children develop when they are allowed to play freely. Of course, the educators are there to support the play with meaningful language and rich materials. And to step in if there is an actual need for adult intervention
The structure… That comes throughout the child’s entire day and their entire lives. From when they open their eyes to to when they finally close them to sleep, the day is scheduled out of their control.