It was a week before the start of the new school year. I was walking in the woods with my sister and five year old twin nieces. They were about to go from reception class to year one. Faye was busy relaxing halfway up a tree when Rosa said in a tiny, forlorn voice, “I don’t want to go back to school.”
My sister reassured and comforted her. Then she turned to me and said, “Rosa’s already noticed that there aren’t as many toys in the year one classroom”. That’s when I had to walk away. I didn’t want to upset Rosa even more with my own tears.
It’s not the fact that there are fewer toys, per se, that hurts my heart. As we get older, it’s natural that we don’t want to play with children’s toys all day long (though I still cuddle my teddy Oliver at night and talk to him as if he were real). Learning, studying, practising, training, getting better, analysing, making discoveries, working hard – all these things can feel like play as we grow.
No, it’s not that they can’t sit and play with toys for the rest of their life that hurts. It’s the fact that this is the beginning of a journey that will funnel them down a path of one-size-fits-all learning and, later, living.
It’s that from here on out, play will become less important than passing tests, passing exams, hitting targets and making decisions about their future before they’ve even tasted life.
They will learn to conform, follow the rules, do what they’re told, fit in. They will learn how to listen to other people before they listen to themselves. They will learn that being a ‘big girl’ and then ‘being an adult’ means that playtime’s over.
I learned lots of great things at school and I had a few great teachers. But what I didn’t learn, there or anywhere else, was to trust myself, to follow what feels true inside and to do what brings me joy.
Playtime isn’t about toys. Playtime is about the freedom to be yourself and to follow your own inner compass. This is when life feels like play. And this is what they don’t teach at school.
Love and courage,