Playing with children

As the children go to school, we ask ourselves how to nurture their gifts.  At the same time, we try to nurture our own inner child.  Can we change our lives by dealing with the inner child? Today’s post is inspired by what you can read here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

The education is broken

We kind of know that education is broken, yet we do not really know what to do about it. Probably, education is broken because the school needs to do too many things for too many people.  A gifted child, an average child and a struggling child have to do the same classes. This is not fair and not ideal to any of them.

All children are frustrated for different reasons. Gifted children do not get sufficient challenges and stimulations. They are envied by peers and bored. Struggling children work hard to keep up with the class, and still, the gaps continue to grow.  The average children tend to be transparent, as people give more attention both to the gifted and to the struggling children. And the teachers are not that good, because the financial compensation and the social status of educators are not stellar.

As an unexpected way to fight bad school experiences, I suggest playing with children. Not just in summer when it is easy and expected, but during the school year when the family needs to manage homework and extracurricular activities.

The child within

The scars caused by bad education never completely heal. For example, I was bad at sports in school, and every time I need to do any physical activity I feel like everybody is criticizing me.  I know some extremely gifted people who simply cannot deal with math. They have an instant blackout every time they see numbers. My parents struggle with history, often replacing real events with imaginary ones. Most people do not feel right knowing that mammoths and pyramids coexisted, while dinosaurs died millions of years before that.

There is a child within each of us. That child has many qualities. Sometimes it is curious and wants to play. Occasionally it asks for attention and care. And then again, he may rebel and cause troubles. The connection between the children we were and the child within is complex. For example, I did not have a chance to rebel as a child, and now as an adult, I rebel all the time. Since I am also the management, my rebellion against myself is a constant comical relief. One of my friends used to say that his father had a huge effect on his life: he became everything his father hated (e.g. an advertiser).

Playing with children

I have three wonderful kids, and I often play with them. This is a corrective experience for my own inner child. As a child, I did not have to play with animals, so we try to ride horses. My mother did not allow me to play music (she had migraines), and my children live guitars and pianos.  I somewhat envy my children, and at the same time, my inner child gets to play.

This is even better for children. The children enjoy the quality time and attention of their parents. The strategies acquired in games allow them to succeed in other challenges. Having common interests provides opportunities for meaningful communication. It is easier to support the child financially and emotionally if we understand his interests.

On the other hand, there are some dangers when parents play with their children. It is important to remember that no matter what role we take in games, we are still the parents and role models. We need to play nicely. Also, we cannot make children love the things that we love ourselves and need to go with the timing and interests of our children. Finally, it is important to keep boundaries, and not allow the games to take resources from studies. As a bonus, occasionally both we and our children need some “solo” time, and if we play together all the time this is an issue.

Out of the box creativity

Certain discoveries were made by adults watching children play and playing with children. In the intro, I provided a link to an article claiming that the entire scientific method was inspired by the way children play. I quote:

Dewey’s short schematic of childhood learning would become the axiomatic modern representation of scientific thought.  ‘Upon examination,’ he wrote:  each instance reveals, more or less clearly, five logically distinct steps: (i) a felt difficulty; (ii) its location and definition; (iii) suggestion of possible solution; (iv)development by reasoning of the bearings of the suggestion; (v) further observation and experiment leading to its acceptance or rejection; that is, the conclusion of belief or disbelief.

Children playgrounds often serve as laboratories for psychologists, as the children are not influenced by complex behavior models governing adult lives. If you show the word “red” written with green ink, the child will immediately guess the color, but the grownups will fail.  Put in google “riddle every child solves but grownups fail” and you will be surprised by the number and variety of the results.

Qualities like curiosity are typically associated with children. The adults are usually creative in very organized ways, very differently from the children’s spontaneous creativity.

New ways of teaching

If we allow the children to teach us how to do certain things, there can be multiple benefits.

The child’s confidence gets a boost, as he gets a chance to teach a grownup. This is very important especially for the shy children who need to be talked into taking an active role.

If the children make mistakes when teaching,  this is the best way from them to learn. Learning from mistakes while teaching is one of the most effective ways to remember something for years. Also, it is a great way to detect misrepresentations in knowledge.

Being creative, the children may also discover something unexpected: a new way to represent and to teach something, a new valuable perspective on the role of the subject, a developmental insight into the subject…

Adults learn by teaching all the time. Children do not get to do it enough. As parents, we can provide them the chance to teach.

The medium vs the message

The children need clear educational messages. Otherwise, they get confused.

But the secret, well-known to most scientists, is that ‘science’ doesn’t ‘tell us’ anything. Science is a medium, not a message.

The teachers fill in the gaps, providing their own messages and interpretations. Unfortunately, these interpretations tend to be unbalanced. Different teachers contradict each other confusing the children. As parents, we may often have to build a more balanced and less politically correct message. We can tell the truth as it is without fearing the supervisors. This is especially true when the school lies.

For example, schools tend to overrate certain individuals putting them on pedestals. These role figures appear to be bigger than life. We, at least some of us, understand these people with all their weaknesses. It is our job to tell the child that one can be extraordinary without being perfect.

Make the time spent together matter

To spend meaningful time with children, we need to reduce the overheads. There are several strategies which enable children to organize their time and workspace. Writing an essay, if done correctly, can be very fast and meaningful. Children can learn advanced memory techniques from the age of 6. Speedreading is very cool for children above 13. Once the children can do their homework quickly, we have more time we can spend on meaningful activities.

Every opportunity to talk can be spent properly. Especially when driving the kids around and putting them to sleep. Making food is also a good opportunity to talk.

Next, we need to allow the children to ask questions that provoke conversation.  Brainstorming and creativity methods are easy to train. In fact, they are often easier for children than for grown-ups. Children enjoy switching perspectives and playing “what if” games.  Why is the world this way, and what can we do to make it different?

Being open and honest in communication really helps. At the same time, any disrespectful communication needs to be stopped immediately.

Talk money to the children

One of the things I disagree with my wife is the financial education of the children. I act as a bank and each child has an account. When they do certain things that I want them to do, they get money in the account. They can choose how they spend that money. Currently, they are in overdraft as they invested in cool guitars. We discuss percentages, savings, investment and return on investment. The children do not yet feel the money like grown-ups, but they have a pretty good understanding of what the money can buy and how it can be earned.

Here are the things to discuss with kids. I quote:

1) Mistakes You’ve Made with Money.
2) How You Earn Money and Use It.
3) How to Be a Media Critic.
4) Planning for Big Goals.
5) How to Use Credit Cards and Bank Accounts.
6) Being Assertive (to Companies and Bosses).

Consumption is not the heart of our conversations. We try to define money as a way to generate meaningful experiences. We also spend some time discussing social media and personal branding.

Nurturing the gift of every child

To actually nurture the gift of the gifted children, we as parents can provide tutors, online education and challenges. As there are more children in the family, they can be grouped according to their interests.

Not all schools are for formal education. Schools for hobbies like music also provide other services. I quote from an article:

  1. Nurture (aka the Love Principle): We focus on the individual child, nurturing his/her social and emotional needs.

  2. Challenge (aka the Goldilocks Principle): We meet students in their ZONE with work that is not too easy, nor too frustrating for them.

  3. Motivation (aka the Power Principle): We give students voices and choices in their learning. Students get to participate in classroom AND school-wide decision making on issues that affect them.

  4. Passionate Interests (aka the No Child Left Bored Principle): We provide frequent opportunities for authentic, interdisciplinary learning based on students’ interests.

  5. Service (aka the Empathy Principle): We encourage students to use their gifts and talents to solve problems to help make the world a better place.

Occasionally we need to pay for equipment, like Lego Mindstorms and 3D printers. The equipment for children is not as expensive as the grown-up toys, but its price is not negligible.


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