One of the problems with studying education is that you start to for some serious opinions (and arguments) about what the purpose of school is and what school should be. It becomes impossible to find a school that matches exactly with your educational philosophy. One of the things that we like about Waldorf-Steiner education is the importance it gives to play and imagination; play and imagination are intrinsic to a child’s development (yes, we went with the Steiner school – the story of that will come soon).
When I had heard the Lily's teacher had told her today that doing her homework was more important then playing with her friends I got seriously pissed off. Personally, I don't agree with homework (I will discuss exactly why in some other post sometime) but wither you are with giving homework or not, the question of which is more important, homework or play, is a separate issue entirely. Her homework was to write out a line each of the letters "d", "e" and "f"; repetition of work already done in school. If we compare only the "learning experience" of playing with her friends, there is a (as far as I am concerned) a clear winner when it comes to "importance".
Last week Lily spent an afternoon playing at her friend Milla's home. Milla is an old friend of Lily's from daycare; she’s a shy, quiet girl and when they play together Lily tends to take the lead. Lily didn’t speak a word of Finnish (despite understanding almost everything after only a few months) which meant that whenever she was playing she always just joined in or followed along. She rarely challenged the “rules of the game” or initiated play. “Following” remained Lily’s way of playing even once she started to speak Finnish and when we were in Hungary so playing with Milla helps her to develop initiative, it makes her feel comfortable and learn how to express her wishes and ideas.
Aside from character development, taking the lead means that she is generating speech in Finnish, and a lot of it. While Steiner school (in theory) puts an emphasis on play, the classroom activities are mainly teacher led – listening, which is a whole different cognitive process to speech production. Lily didn’t use Finnish at all last year (and forgot almost all of the language) and we don’t use Finnish at home so she is kind of “playing catch-up” with the other kids in terms of vocabulary and complexity of language use. Any chance for her to be in an environment where she is using Finnish will be of a huge benefit to her when it comes to being in a Finnish classroom.
It isn’t even just the Finnish language that Lily gains from being in a Finnish home but also Finnish norms. In any culture (and its institutions) there are certain things that are just done or just are, that need no explanation. However when you are not fully living within that culture sometimes these things just don’t make sense and do need to be explained. Spending time in more “typically Finnish” environments help Lily (and us) to understand why some things in her school are as they are.
This is only one afternoon with one friend. How about when she plays in the playground in front of our apartment? The 3 kids she plays with most are all native German speakers with limited Finnish and/or English – Did I mention that German is one of the languages they are learning in school? Where do you think she will learn more German? School or the playground?
What about what others can lean through Lily. Also last week we had one of the neighbours’ kids at our place for the whole afternoon. The child’s father is a supporters of Perussuomalaiset (True Finns (or The Finns – they recently changed their English name)), a far right/ anti-immigration party, yet the child is now playing in the home of immigrants, building a friendship with an immigrant child. And through Lily we are making connections with the whole family. We are making an effort to try to understand their perspective and we are challenging their perceptions of “the immigrant” or “the other”.
But then all this rant of mine is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter what she learns or which teaches her more. Frankly the simple argument is. She is a child. There is nothing more important for children than play.