“Play is the highest form of research.” -Albert Einstein
Sudbury offers unlimited possibilities for students to create and engage with their world. But what does that look like and what can parents expect? As parents, sometimes we want to see results and it is hard to be patient. Empowering students to take on the challenges of their individual and collective world is a multi-year process. As staff, we wanted to share some insights.
For our youngest students, around ages 4 to 6, the name of the game is play, play, play. Creative, cooperative play is how young people explore and process their world. In much the same way they babbled to learn how to speak, they are babbling with their world and their interactions. They are trying to make sense of how the world works, who they are and how their actions affect others. They want to see how fast they can run, how high they can jump, what their words do, what their voice does, and more. They are curious about everything. They are as curious about letters and math as they are about leaves falling from trees, birds flying by and the seasons changing. They will often walk out of School Meeting in favor of seeing an awesome caterpillar. This is natural and good. Play and exploration is critical to development.
As they grow older at Sudbury, around ages 7-10, they begin to recognize that they have agency. They have power to create the world they want, but they haven’t tried it much. So, they start playing and babbling in that world. They might go to School Meeting or a committee meeting just to see what it’s about. They might put something on the agenda, but only if someone presents it with them. They still play A LOT. The empowerment process of Sudbury is powerful but can also be a little bit scary. This is natural. Think about the process of jumping off a swing. What a scary, risky prospect! Most young people don’t start jumping off at full swing. They start with the swing while it’s moving very slow. They jump off at their level of comfort or a bit beyond. Then they take a big deep breath and smile. “I did it!” Then they do it again. And again. And again. Each time they swing a little higher and jump a little farther. This is the natural learning process. The more they engage, the more success they see and the farther they reach for their goals the next time.
As they grow into their teenage years, they are comfortable engaging in the processes at school, meetings, committees, and more. Yet, they still play and babble. Only now they play with deeper social interactions and focus more on topics, books, and experiences that interest them. Maybe they will start a business, read every book they can find from a certain author, start blogging or create a YouTube channel, and dive deep into the world they have learned to navigate.
As parents, it can be challenging to be patient as your child plays and babbles through their development, regardless of their age. Much like gardening, the most important work is the consistent patience and care to provide a consistent nurturing environment day-after-day that will result in a beautiful harvest when the plant is ready. Some days you will feel that there is no growth at all. Some days there is so much growth you can’t keep up. We hope this is helpful information for you and we look forward to seeing all of our young people play and babble their way into the amazing people that they are.