Early homeschooling, freedom to play

In Andrew O'Hehir's recent Salon article, "Why our kids don't go to kindergarten," the third in a series on the choice to homeschool -- Confessions of a Secular Homeschooler -- he focuses on the disconnect between education reform proposals, current practices, and the accepted psychology of early childhood.
"Speaking broadly, American public education, especially in the early grades, has become dominated by a bizarre orthodoxy that is almost completely unsupported by rigorous research, or for that matter by teachers, education professionals and child psychologists."
Kindergartners Need Time to Play

O'Hehir supported his position to homeschool kindergarten with research findings from Susan Engel, the psychologist who heads the teaching program at Williams College, and "Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School (pdf)," a study of 268 kindergarten classrooms conducted by researchers from Long Island University, Sarah Lawrence College, and UCLA, published by the Alliance for Childhood.
According to Susan Engel, "We know that play is essential to good cognitive development. . . When we study what goes on when kids play, we see that that's the situation and the activity in which they learn things that we consider to be essential to higher-order thinking. When kindergarten becomes too skill-oriented, kids are actually prevented from doing the things that we as psychologists know they need to do to develop sophisticated ways of thinking, including asking questions and trying to find answers to those questions."
In Engel's Feb 1, 2010 The New York Times op-ed article, "Playing to Learn," she imagined a hypothetical school day with plenty of time for questions, conversations, and play.
To this, O'Hehir remarked, "For a great many home-schoolers -- and plenty of other people too, I am sure -- this was a Eureka moment. Both Engel's proposed goals and methods come pretty close to describing what Leslie and other home-schoolers I know are actually doing, and what they hope to accomplish."
This brought to mind a section near the end of John Holt's Teach Your Own in which he suggested that schools could learn from homeschoolers what they could not learn under the constraints of mandated school curricula, which amounts to the great many different ways children learn, so that schools could "offer to learners the widest possible range of choices, both in what to learn and ways to learn it."

In this way, schools need not fear homeschooling, especially homeschooling done in the early years. O'Hehir predicted that his children would attend school at some point. His intention to homeschool thus far covered only the foundational early years when homeschooling, but not school, can guarantee the conversation and free play his children need.

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