Playful Learning is a delightful book about children, how they learn and how the
family can support and encourage them.
If you're concerned about the education of your young children or those you teach and love or if you're just concerned about education in this country in general and the impact on all aspects of our society then this is the book for you! Families need this kind of resource and expertise to support their children's growth and learning in the complex world we live in. Recent articles and research going back as far as the `70s show that too much emphasis on academic achievement at an early age can create a variety of antisocial behavior including social violence (In Defense of Learning, [...], Brodsky Chenfeld, M (2006 June) Hand Cuff Me Too, Phi Delta Kappan, 87(10) 745-747. Burgard, M (2007, April 2) Into School, Out of Control:Nowadays Even the Youngest Students Turn to Violence, Hartford Courant, April 12, 2007 Bruehl emphasizes the importance of engaging a child's interest, focusing on fun and not forcing the timetable and activity but allowing the child to learn at their own pace and as interest dictates during early childhood.
Mariah Bruehl is an early childhood education expert who had a dream to start her own school using her ideas about how children learn and keeping the natural joy and playfulness in their education. The opportunity to help start a new school came to her that would provide children a world-class education and all that was necessary for a successful life. She was surrounded with brilliant teachers and educators creating an early childhood and elementary school that was one of the most innovative in the country. After the birth of her second child she began to realize that her good intentions were way off base and the time required to develop her career was at the expense of time with her own children. She says that the "big hard lesson...was that although good schools are a vital aspect of children's development, they are simply not enough." Instead of putting all of her time and energy into developing schools she turned her focus to nurturing her own family and helping others do the same.
In the process of developing ideas and curriculum for her own children she began to put together the book, Playful Learning. This book is a guide for all parents to understanding how children learn, what excites them and what turns them off. The author gives detailed rationale for each lesson or exercise. Her directions are clear and easy to follow and implement. She believes that young children are naturally eager to explore and learn all about the world around them. In reading this book and due to the author's engaging writing style, I felt transported back to my own childhood and remembered how excited I felt as a child as I explored new learning opportunities and discovered who I was, the best part of me and what I'm passionate about. The activities are self-affirming and encouraging to children as young as early pre-school. The author gives the reader insight into how children learn and what they experience in the process.
The first section on how the book is intended to be used encourages the parent to allow the child to take the lead in his learning rather than having a pre-prescribed plan. Bruehl describes the learning process for children for each of the seven disciplines addressed clearly and completely. There should be an Ah-ha moment for each parent or reader; there was for me as a mother of four and an educator when I realized that each child learns at her own pace and that mastery of each level is necessary before the child can move on to the next. Practical everyday examples of exercises are given; you don't have to be a trained educator to understand and follow them. This book will guide the reader through the early stages of teaching, learning and loving to learn with children.
The next section includes photographs and detailed descriptions of setting up learning spaces. No matter the size of the space you have available to you, the descriptions can be adapted with materials readily available everywhere. Having a specific, well-organized space is encouraging and special for a child and lets them know you value learning and what they're doing and interested in. I found this extremely helpful and it relieved much of the anxiety I often feel when starting a new project. Each section has a special box set up with a list of supplies needed to set up the area.
The next seven sections of the book address each of the primary disciplines for young children: writing, reading, mathematics, science, art and artists, geography and citizens of tomorrow, which includes social and political issues. In each of these areas time is spent explaining the unique mental process the child goes through to master the skills and concepts necessary and gives developmental information for three levels of development from youngest pre-school to late elementary students. Exercises and lists of materials and supplies are provided for each subject along with a rationale for using them.
Some of the highlights I found most interesting were the emphasis on social and emotional development that includes self awareness, social awareness, self management, responsible decision making and relationship skills needed for successful children. The emphasis on the importance of family as the microcosm of the larger world includes basic non-negotiable rules, respect for other's feelings, words, bodies and things; the necessity of conflict resolution skills in a material world, understanding needs vs. wants, the importance of contribution to the community and individual development through growth and ability.
The book ends with an extensive list of printable materials, resources and sources for other materials. This book can be an invaluable resource for parents, families and all teachers of young children especially those considering or involved in home schooling.