Gary Pope

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21.2.2021

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5 min

The Playground is More Important Than the Classroom

"Play is the work of the child" said Maria Montessori; and she would know.

Madam Montessorri is the one who worked out that if you want children to learn well then they need things like, oh I don’t know, chairs that they can sit on properly and tables they can reach. She believed that the very best child learning happens when we support and guide our children rather than dictate, and most importantly, she defined respect for the child as the most fundamental pillar of an effective education system.

She had a point. She had quite a few. Still has.

Ever since this heinous little virus began massively disrupting education, the academic progress of our children has been at the centre of debate after furious debate. And rightly so. Just this morning the UK Government announced that teachers will be able to provide the grades for all children that are sitting final examinations in the final years of their school careers. A shame in many ways, but it is probably the right thing to do. But what of the younger ones? The ones who can, arguably, wait for a little to learn algebra or to master over-elaborate grammatical conventions. I’m really thinking about children aged 4 - 11.

Apparently, summer schools and a pot of £700M are the solution. The answer, according to Education Secretary Gavin “The Whip” Williamson, is to provide additional lessons to help these children catch up. Excuse me whilst I choke on my less-than-nutritious free school dinner. Mr Williamson, there is a far more important aspect to the healthy development of our children that it seems you may have missed out on as a child.

Play.

Sir Kevan Collins, the new Education Recovery Tsar (yes, this is a thing) is calling for an increase in learning time so that children can “catch up”. Catch up to what? They’re all in the same boat. The system stays rigid whilst the children must flex? Children have spent a year cooped up at home, and we’re now going to wildly swing in the opposite direction and make them spend extended periods cooped up in school. Are we bonkers? This is not childhood.

The human bean, as The BFG would say, is a miraculous thing. Yes, we’ve perfected the art of destruction, but we’ve also learned to control fire, navigate by the stars, harness electricity, go to the moon, communicate instantaneously over thousands of miles, and most recently we’ve reduced the time needed to create a vaccine from ten years to ten months. Amazing things, human beans. And the littlest ones are the most amazing.

If we let them.

If we respect them.

The relentless march of progress will continue because that’s what human beans do. But progress will be better if we let the next generation have the opportunity to be exactly what they need to be.

Children.

I was once a schoolteacher. Back then, just as Standardised Assessment Testing was taking its vice-like grip, I saw firsthand the pressure this “catching up” puts on younger children. Piling ever more pressure on children to “catch up” in the time when they should be playing does nothing for them. Nor for our shared future.

It wasn’t just Montessorri who believed. Jean Piaget said the self-same thing: ”Play is the work of childhood.” Even Mr Rogers, who is a world away from Maria Montessorri, or Piaget for that matter, said in his own supportive way:  “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning.”

Let’s have some respect for our children and let them play.