We are in the final weeks of our second year of playing skillfully with The Homegrown Preschooler. You can read all about our first experience here. After such a wonderful first year with my then 3 and 5 year old, we knew we wanted to repeat the year once more. A Year of Playing Skillfully is designed for multi-age use which makes it ideally suited for repetition because the activities are organized with several levels of ability in mind. My boys were able to repeat familiar activities with higher mastery by virtue of having simply aged one year. Some activities that were not suitable last year, fit perfectly this year. They are growing up alongside it and nothing about this second year felt boring or unchallenging.
All that messy joy and contagious wonder has covered our family with so much grace. I never feel guilty with AYoPS. There are months when we do the majority of the activities listed and its wonderful. There are months when we only do half and that is wonderful too. There is so much freedom within these pages that I feel at complete liberty to let my children linger as they need. This isn’t a checklist of curriculum that must be finished by the end of the year or else. Its a gathering of experiences with the potential to become memories.
Lingering feels like a lost art these days. We took a long walk in the woods the other day, collecting natural elements to place on our color wheel. We chatted back and forth, laughing and making memories. No pressure to rush off somewhere or check something off a list. We were learning together, sharing a sensory-rich experience in nature. The boys hands were filled with gathered treasures, forming relationships in their minds and in their souls. We see this play out in almost every activity we do. At its heart, AYOPS joyfully teaches us to learn with all our whole selves, to embrace the beauty of poetic knowledge, to relish understanding something because you have experienced it through wonder, relationship and love. Wonder is not just a glittery word for cute childish learning. Wonder is a powerful word for that humbling moment when you embrace the mystery of life and encounter the stirring of passion and curiosity.
Yes, its about “saying yes” to fun and laughter and memories, but its also about saying yes to laying foundations for learning, firmly rooted in hungry curiosity, ecstatic creativity, necessary humility and powerful wonder. These are life-changing character traits that lead to life-giving learning. Two years in and I am seeing this fruition in my children. From the eldest children to the youngest, spanning the ages of 9-4, I am seeing the fruit of AYOPS in all stages of their learning. They are willing to experiment and make mistakes, they are eager to investigate and ask questions, they are holding on to play and imagination. Funny how each one of those activities added up over time. Hour by hour, story by story, day by day, its all adding up to something really beautiful. Someone asked me the other day if I was worried about how much time my children spend playing. The answer is no. I am not worried. I am rejoicing.
AYOPS taught me to place a high value on play. Have you read the original book “The Homegrown Preschooler?” I cannot recommend it enough. Find it. Read it. Live it.
Protecting their right to play, changed their lives. AYOPS’ constant reminder to “say yes” and to embrace that much needed time for play, for sorting emotions, for ordering the world, for sensory experience, has produced radical results in our home. I never hear my children say “I am bored.” They have been conditioned to play and when time presents itself, they know exactly what to do with it. When faced with a challenge they recall events they encountered in their playtime that help them make a plan and see it through.
Another beautiful aspect of AYOPS is the gentle monthly reminder for habit and character training. Affirming them as valued members of our family and household has opened a door for these boys. They want to help. They are eager to take part in things. They enjoy the ordering of things after the mess has been relished.
I must confess that having children participate in chores makes for painfully slow housework at times. Yet the rewards of this time spent are seen everywhere. My youngest knows that he is capable. What a gift! He is capable. He can learn how to do anything. He is important to us. We need him and what he has to offer. He is valuable. We repeat these through word and action each month as we reintroduce and affirm these skills. He is not a limited child stuck within the boundaries of a sensory disorder. His is beloved and brimming with possibility.
Now I’ll share specifically about my six year old and this curriculum. Facing the constant pressure to HURRY UP AND LEARN EVERYTHING NOW, I chose instead to slow down. I chose to teach phonics at his pace and to gift him with another year of AYOPS. I have said it before and I will say it again, its not just about what they are learning, its about who they are becoming. And at this oh so tender age of six, its not just about giving them an education, its about protecting their childhood. I gave him the gift of more time.
Time to nap under a flowering bush after we read “Billy and Blaze” for the hundredth time. Time to create an elaborate mud mural on the sidewalk.
Time to ask as many questions as he needed. Time to discover things in his immediate world and build relationships with them. Another nap picture? Yes. It was a great theme in our home this year. I would often see him surrounded by books or bugs or knitting needles and half an hour later see him nestled in a blanket, fast asleep. I always snapped a picture to remind myself of his littleness. I would gaze at these pictures every time a person, article or book suggested that our children need to be reading by the age of four or it was game over.
His world expanded this year. Yes, he was reading by the end of the year, but only because he was ready! In the meantime, his world expanded. He fell in love with Van Gogh, Picasso and Paul Klee. He discovered that he loves water colors and crochet work. His favorite time to take a nature walk? Sunset. He found composers and writers and poets and musicians that thrilled him and he wanted to invite them to his birthday party. He discovered that he still loves to play “Doggie Doggie where is your bone?” He wasn’t too old to play skillfully, he was just right.
The truth is it was just right for all of us. A month ago I was describing AYOPS to a friend and the following conversation occurred:
Me: “Its my favorite curriculum we’ve ever done.”
Friend: “I’m so excited to try it!”
Son: “Excuse me, Mom? Its not a curriculum.”
Me: “Its not?”
Son: “No! Its a tradition! Because every fall we go on a hot air balloon journey and before you know it its time for pumpkincano and then in December we always paint the windows and….”
This went on for quite some time.
Friend: “I thought you bought AYOPS for your youngest two?”
Son: ” Trust me, its for the whole family.”
So, will we attempt three years of playing skillfully?
Yes! Yes, we will.
At this point I must concede that we have been conditioned for a lifetime of playing skillfully. Its a part of who we are. Its in the fabric of our family story. We are a family that plays together.
To any readers wanting to try A Year of Playing Skillfully, I have a special promo for you! 10% off with the code FarmhouseSchoolhouse. Enjoy!