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Homeschooling and the Power of Play

By Elizabeth Kanna, contributing editor-at-large, Homeschooler Network

The Cleavers were America's favorite TV family in the 1950s. Mrs. Cleaver was a stay-at-home housewife and Mr. Cleaver was the breadwinner. They lived with their two boys in a modest suburban home, and spent lots of quality time together as a family. My family's lifestyle is very different in almost every way. With three homeschooled kids, five pets, and two working parents, we have to be creative to get everything done – especially the homeschooling – and everyone has to pitch in. Due to my current and work schedule, my husband does most of the cooking and shopping. Our three girls do a substantial number of household chores. We require quite a bit of technology to keep our lives and work running smoothly: multiple computers, printers, fax machines, extra phone lines, and cell phones.

My family may not look like the Cleavers, but like many other homeschooling families, we have a "Cleaveresque" – i.e., family-oriented-lifestyle. That's because homeschooling gives us more time and flexibility to focus on family, community involvement, and providing our children with one of the most important gifts we can give them – an old-fashioned childhood.

In his best-selling and highly respected book The Hurried Child, David Elkind writes:

The concept of childhood, so vital to the traditional American way of life, is threatened with extinction in the society we have created. Today's child has become the unwilling, unintended victim of overwhelming stress - the stress born of rapid, bewildering social change and constantly rising expectations.

…Unfortunately, both the value and the meaning of play are poorly understood in our hurried society. Indeed, what happened to adults in our society has now happened to children – play has been transformed into work. What was once recreation – sports, summer camps, musical training – is now professionalized and competitive. Perhaps the best evidence of the extent to which our children are hurried is the lack of opportunities for genuine play available to them.

Play, in its varied forms, helps children develop many of the skills vital for academic and life success. It stretches the muscles of creativity and imagination. It provides opportunities to cooperate as well as to try on the leader's hat. It's a way to both gain and dispel energy. Play is indeed a child's most important work. Homeschooling's one-on-one attention to a child's academics is so time-efficient that the homeschooled child has bonus hours for additional play. Homeschoolers just need to "keep the calendar clear" and resist the temptation to fill that free time with too many structured activities.

This summer, like the last, we didn't fill every minute of our girls' time with enrichment courses from surfing to college prep. Instead, our girls, ages eight, eleven, and fourteen, enjoyed a summer reminiscent of the typical life of an American child in the 1950s. Our girls participated in many community-based programs, including the swim team and our library's ice cream socials, bake sales, and summer reading clubs. But most of their time was devoted to unstructured play. They built impressive neighborhood forts, ran through the sprinklers, made money with a neighborhood lemonade stand, slurped ice cream, created a neighborhood all-girl rock'n roll band, and played made-up games with other kids in the neighborhood until well past dark each night.

When summer ended, the other children in our neighborhood returned to school, keeping schedules similar to those of working adults. Our girls began spending a few more hours on homeschooling each day, but their lives aren't much different than they were during the summer. They continue to build forts (including indoor ones, when the weather is bad), participate in community projects that interest them, and play made-up games with the kids in our homeschooling support group each week.

As homeschooling families, we can choose to utilize any of the modern conveniences that work for us, but homeschooling also gives us the time and flexibility to rekindle a family lifestyle from America's past. And by doing so, we give our children something very rare today – an old-fashioned childhood.

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