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Should Do Versus Wants To Do

Should Do Versus Wants To Do
By Beverley Paine
Getting rid of the "shoulds" in favor of helping our kids find their own interest-based learning paths

“I still struggle with what I think he should do versus what he wants to do. For example, I think we should do more play-dough and craft, even puzzles… but he goes for sports, fighting with some toy weapons, boxing gloves, fighting with his cars so that they crash into each other, fighting his superhero characters against each other, and computer games.” ~ Sharon (who posed this question to me recently)

There are two parts to the issue facing Sharon. The first is determining boundaries such as who is responsible for determining what is necessary to learn and do; the second is Sharon’s obvious concern about her child’s choice of activity.

“Should” is a powerful word used when we feel the need to coerce ourselves or others into doing things we believe we need to do but don’t want to. It’s one of those words we’d do well to throw out of our vocabularies! Whenever I use the word in contexts like this, I like to pause and think: who says “should”? Often, it is not me; it’s the voice of generations of conditioning. In other words, I am worried what other people will think if they see my child doing this all the time instead of some activity that is more generally acceptable or valued.

When I pause and think about why my children “should” do this or that, I often realize that there is no real reason, just a cultural imperative that doesn’t really belong in this immediate context. We might worry that play fighting now will translate into violent tendencies in adult life, our focus fixed on some distant future. If that is the case, we need to bring our focus back to the present moment and let the future unfold in due time.

If I were Sharon, I would get involved in my son’s play and interests, not all the time of course, but just enough to introduce novelty into the activities. For example, I might start creating medieval scenes from play dough, making different types of weaponry and armor from different materials, start researching armor and fighting styles in books, find TV shows and movies, documentaries, etc, on the subject and invite him to watch or play or create with me. I am sure that these would become the impetus for much conversation which would enhance and develop his knowledge and understanding of fighting. It would also enrich his play activities.

This would involve me giving up some of my time, maybe half an hour a day for a few days or a couple of sustained periods of activity every other day. Two or three weeks of doing this would definitely have an effect, not only on my perception of his choice of activity and possibly the values I hold about them, but also on how he plays. It’s not my aim to stop him doing what he wants to do, but to support and value it. In this way, it becomes something I can accept and see as a valuable learning activity in its own right.

Notice that I said “invite him to watch or play or create with me.” It is important that it is his choice. Most children will be curious about what we’re doing, especially if it has something to do with things that interest them, and will come over and watch for a while. If they join in – great. If they don’t, that’s okay too.

There are lots of things you can do: Create tracks with stunt props for his cars, for example. Let your imagination soar. Be guided by your memories of when you were a child. What kind of things did you or your brothers or friends do? The idea is to enhance his play with activities that naturally help him learn.

When our children play, there is a fantastic array of opportunities to extend learning beyond the pleasure of being lost in their imaginations. Creating and making toys and props for games with your children is packed with skills and learning across the traditional curriculum.

We have come to expect that our children will naturally create and make their own games on their own, that they are somehow born knowing how to play and that is all they want to do. Not so! Children haven’t got a clue about toys until we introduce them to them. Babies and toddlers prefer the things we use in our everyday lives, which is why pots and pans and plastic containers hold them enthralled for hours on end. Babies use props like this to help them make sense of their world. Later on, they use imaginative play to do the same: Anything can become a car or a tool or a cake-mixer.

Learning doesn’t have to be fun for kids to enjoy it. In fact, if we make learning fun all the time, we spoil it for them. They know that learning isn’t about having fun, that often it’s a challenge and is sometimes quite difficult. And they know they are up to that challenge. Kids love to challenge themselves. They’re primed for change and growth and actively seek new knowledge, skills, and understandings, without our interference at all! Schools want to make learning fun because schools are such boring places to be; they are resource deserts devoid of anything of real interest to children. Publishers and toy companies want to make learning “fun” because they are in business to make a profit. At home, we don’t need to make learning fun; we just need to ensure that life is usually interesting and stimulating. The more interested we are in our own lives, the more interest our children will show in theirs. Taking an interest in their activities and choices supports their educational development so we don't have to worry about the “shoulds.”

Beverley Paine began home educating her children, now young adults, in 1985. She’s an active member of the Australian home education movement. As an author she’s published several homeschooling books and writes fiction for children and young adults. Her other passions include permaculture, alternative technology, and web design. Visit her Educating Parent website. This article is from her e-book Natural Learning Answers, published by Always Learning Books.

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