Imagine you go into work in the morning and the boss says you can work freely on whatever you want, you find a project that interests you and you get into it, but before you are finished, you are called to a team meeting. This meeting may be about something that is of interest or importance to you, and it may not be, but you will have to sit and pay attention for the whole meeting because this is important to your boss. Let’s say the meeting lasted 30 minutes and then the boss says you are free to work on any project you want as long as it is one of the prechosen projects. Some of these projects are ones that can be completed in minutes, and some are ones you can really get into and keep at for hours. It doesn’t matter what task you choose; you must stay at it for the next 20 minutes. When those 20 minutes are up, you must move on to another prearranged task and again, stay at it for 20 minutes which might be too long or might not be long enough to complete the task to your liking.
Finally, you get a break, but you have to take your break in the area decided by your boss. As with the inside tasks, the area for your break is limited and there are strict rules to follow. After you have had 20 minutes to enjoy this break, you are sent to lunch. Your lunch is chosen for you and consists of highly processed foods and is very carb heavy. After lunch you get to take a nap, but you have to nap in a room where people are going in and out and talking the whole time. You finally fall asleep after an hour and just as you fall into a deep sleep, the lights are turned on, you are woken up and told to get up right away.
You are still groggy from your nap being cut short, but it is time to eat a snack, this snack may or may not be something you like, and you only get one serving either way. After snack, there is another meeting. At this meeting the boss tells you she wants you to learn about time management. You might not have a problem with time management but that doesn’t matter. For the next 45 minutes you will be doing activities to teach you about time management. Some of these might be of interest to you, some might not but you have to do them all. During one of the tasks, you and a co-worker have a disagreement, as you are trying to work it out, the boss
comes over and takes charge, they tell you and your co-worker how to proceed, neither of you feel satisfied with this outcome but you have no choice but to do what you are told. After you have finished all the time management tasks, you get another break and decide to embark on a project of your own choosing during this break but unfortunately, your break is not long enough for you to finish the project and it will not be saved for you to come back to.
When you get back to the office, you are told you will need to work in another room with another group of co-workers. Once in the new space you are assigned a project and must keep that project in the proper spot and cannot collaborate with anyone else unless they were specifically assigned the same project. This is how you spend the rest of your day, unless the boss decides to bring in more people and have you all watch a video that is unrelated to the work you are doing.
Imagine that you do that same thing day in and day out. Some of you may enjoy the predictability of these days but I’m sure most would feel frustrated at the lack of control you are given to finish your job to your standards. There is a good chance that you would not look forward to going to work or feel pride in what you are doing.
Now imagine you go to work and are allowed long periods of time to work on what you want to work on. If you have to stop for any reason, you get to save your work and come back to it later. When you take a break, you get to decide how to spend that time and are given many options of activities and the only rule is to not hurt anyone and not break anything.
After your break, you get a lunch that is made mostly of whole fruits and vegetables along with protein. After lunch you go to a quiet, dim room to nap. Before you fall asleep there is a relaxing story and then calming music helps to drift off. When you wake up the room is still dark, there may be a window open, but you can lay and relax until you are ready to get up.
Once you are ready, you get to have an afternoon snack. The snacks are plentiful, and you get to have as much or as little as you want.
Then you get to spend the rest of the day working on the project of your choice. If you and a co-worker have a disagreement, your boss tells you to talk it out and come up with a solution you are both happy with. You are free to go back and forth from project to project and to work with whoever you want.
When you leave in the afternoon, there is a good chance you feel fulfilled and happy to have been able to do your job to your standard.
Now replace the word boss with teacher and you see the difference between your typical early childhood education model and a true play-based model. Play is the work of children; it is how they learn and how they gain the skills needed to function in life. When we interrupt play to “teach” we are actually robbing children of the opportunity to learn.
The Birdsall House way believes that given time and the proper environment, children will learn everything they need to be ready for academic learning. We don’t create lessons, we don’t tell the children what we think they need to learn, we trust them to explore and create their own lessons.