In my classroom, I often gave the students choices when it came to content and products. Individual instruction was common and often there was a variety of learning experiences going on at one time. Keep in mind, that I was teaching in an enrichment classroom. Realistically, it is difficult for this type of learning to occur all of the time in the regular classroom.
This type of learning has transferred over into the way that I've raised my children. Often, I would let them “lead” me when it came to their learning experiences. Lately, L (26 months) has been asking for different types of play and has been exploring and creating new ways to learn with materials that we have. This self-directed play has been valuable in relation to his sensory experiences.
Another day, as he was playing with rice, I noticed that he dumped his letters in the rice. He hid them and played a game of eye-spy ABC letters. (He is able to identify some of the letters.)
The next activity that L created through discovery and play is great for developing his fine motor skills. He found small pieces of cut straws and started placing them on a coffee stirrer.
He worked really hard at this play task which took a lot of concentration. I had one of those- “Why didn't I think of that?” moments as I watched him immersed in this activity. Once he got the pieces of straw on the coffee stirrer, he was so proud of this accomplishment.
There are many great articles online that stress the importance of free play. There is a debate between those who feel play must be an “unintruded-upon, self-directed activity and experience for the young child” and those who support 'structured' play in which “adults actively and consciously intervene into the play of young children.” They guide the child more towards specific goals for learning.
After reflecting upon my own philosophies, I think that I probably fall somewhere in the middle with a combination of free experiences and guided learning. I've been interested in learning more about Marie Montessori's philosophies. She says that “Free choice is one of the highest of all mental processes.” Another quote from Montessori that I found interesting... “The environment must be rich in motives which lend interest to activity and invite the child to conduct his own experiences.”
What are your thoughts about free play and how have you let your child “lead the way?”