Friday, May 17, 2019

What It Means To Balance

The kids were balancing along planks that had been set up as bridges between two points. Most of them were managing it just fine, but a few lost their balance and had to jump to the floor. After several minutes of this, one of the kids announced, “If you don’t want to fall, I know how.” He spread his arms out to either side, then began to walk carefully across a plank. “If you hold your arms like this, you won’t fall.”

He had discovered a fact of physics that we all learn in childhood, usually through the trial and error of play. Some day, he may be formally “taught” the concept in a classroom, perhaps including a formula and certainly with some scientific jargon, but since he has this head start, since he already “knows” how it works in real life, it will come much more easily for him.

This is one reason why play in early childhood, and lots of it, is so important. Too often, traditional schools start with the abstractions of algorithm or sentence structure or phonics. Without the sort of underlying understanding that comes from having actually experienced what these things describe in the real world, most children struggle far more than they need to, taking years sometimes to learn things that they could have “learned” in a day or two. No wonder they come to think of school has hard: it tries to teach them things backwards.

If we want our children to grow into well-educated adults, and by that I mean people who actually understand beyond the kind of rote memorization required by traditional schools, they must play, and play a lot. Now, I’m of the mind that this is how we should be learning throughout our lives, but there can be no doubt that when it comes to the early years, play must form the foundation.

Within minutes, arms spread wide, the children followed their friend across the planks, knowing, deeply and with their full bodies, what it means to balance.


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