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The Home School Game

Today is the Feast of St. Nicholas. Our family has started a tradition of celebrating this day by opening gifts from our stockings on this day and remembering the historical figure of Nicholas, who was a humble and generous person. It is a wonderful compromise for our family backgrounds to both celebrate Santa Claus and at the same time keep Christ-mas about Christ. It has become a tradition I look forward to every year.

This year, we decided to add an element of teaching our children to be generous by choosing toys they want to give away to other girls and boys who are less fortunate than our children. Katie lined up two dozen toys they had not been playing with for some time now and laid them all out on a table. One by one, our kids examined the toys on the table and were instructed to pick out one toy they wanted to keep for themselves. After each kid had picked out a toy to keep, they were told to go back through the toys and pick another toy they wanted to give away. It was heart-warming to see them pick their second-favorite toys and get excited about giving them away to share with another child.

So all that sets up the scene for my experience last night. Katie had laid out the toys on a table in the basement in preparation for today. She had me look them over and see if there was anything I wanted to keep on behalf of the kids. I noticed a yellow pegboard with colorful beads sitting on the give-away table. We inherited that game from my mom when she was cleaning out a lot of games from the basement one summer. Seeing it sit on the table brought about certain sentimental memories, so I realize that what I am about to say is biased with emotions, yet still pertinent.

To the best of my knowledge the yellow pegboard game has no rules, no strategy, and no guidelines. As kids, I remember we would lay out the beads in certain color patterns, we would play a strange version of checkers, we would design a candy forest for our Barbies to walk through (the joys of being raised with 3 sisters and no brothers), and we would see how high we could stack the beads before they would tip over. This pegboard was basically a homeschool child's best friend.

Next to the pegboard was another bored game (whoops, did I misspell that?). This game had 4 shapes with cutouts in the board where each shape should go. There are color-coordinated areas where each of the shapes and corresponding circles belong. "Place the triangle in the green circle," you can almost hear yourself coaching your two-year old now. It is designed to teach children shapes and colors--a very noble intention!

When I saw these two games sitting side-by-side I gestured to the games and told Katie, "This is the epitome of the difference between home school and public school." The shapes game is teaching children to be ready for an office job--I want you to do x, y, and z before 2:00 and get those files organized by the end of the day. Meanwhile the pegboard game is teaching children to be ready to be an entrepreneur--Here is a basic framework for how these things go together; make something out of it. One game teaches rules and facts with no boundary for making a mistake. The other is non-structured play that requires imagination to make something out of it.

Needless to say I opted to pull the yellow pegboard off the table to save it for a rainy day of playtime with the kids. The shapes game can go to a new home where public school children can learn to put the green triangle in the top left corner.

This is not a post designed to lambaste those who choose to public school their children, nor is it a critique of the education that adults received from a public school. I have my personal reasons for loving homeschool education just as many others have personal reasons for loving private/public school systems. Games with creative content as well as structure are essential for any child's development, regardless of classroom setting. The ah-ha moment that inspired this post occurred when I thought about the stereotypical cubical job which necessarily has processes for everything (think telemarketers reading from their green triangle script).

There is a growing movement that encourages entrepreneurship in public schools (see Steve Blank's article about thinking like an entrepreneur, not like an accountant). I think movements like this are important for public, private, and home schools. And I wouldn't be surprised if we see more and more programs encourage education that will eventually blossom start-ups from their students.

Who knows, our president-elect may even be the one to foster a business-like education in our school system.



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