The Work of a Child
- Friday, April 05, 2013
Later, he often dictated his compositions—at first to Mom and then to a computer. Gradually he developed a fine vocabulary and a rather sophisticated way of using words. The handwriting and spelling were hard (and still are), but we kept him doing copywork daily for almost two years. Had we done standardized tests, he probably would have scored frighteningly low, but we had the wisdom to just say “no” to the world’s demand that we compare our children with other people’s children. However, I must confess there were many days when we really doubted whether this was the right approach.
With a great amount of unstructured time, he was free to fulfill his natural calling to run and jump and build and fight and explore. As we had renounced video games and television as available forms of entertainment in our home, he was forced to be creative. He spent considerable time outdoors, often alone, observing and absorbing his world in a healthy, visceral way. Maria Montessori asserted, “Play is the work of the child,” and indeed my son worked at play. (G. K. Chesterton noted that the reason adults don’t play more is because it requires too much effort.) So it was the combination of imaginative recreation, huge quantities of great literature, and a small but steady rigor of simple academics that got us over the hump and into the homestretch.
And where are we today? My son is 15. He reads voraciously; applies himself seriously to the study of grammar, logic, and rhetoric; still loves to argue and debate (only now over much more sophisticated ideas); and writes prose that awes me. A couple of months ago, he took a pad of paper and went out into the woods behind our home. An hour or so later, he returned and read to me what he had written, a part of which I offer you now, unedited (except for spelling):
The dark forest floor is illuminated in spots by the small amount of light let through by the dense branches above. After the first few layers of pine foliage, the branches die, leaving dark claws, grabbing at any traveler. The moss which has grown on the rocks turns to bright gold when light finds rest there. Although the feel of the forest is magical, it is in no way good, for good only lives in the places of good, and the cedar forest is not a place of good. The magic which lives in the forest is strong, but wild, treacherous, and unpredictable. It seeks to hinder the traveler, causing him to become bewildered. The wind that blows through it is spasmodic and chilling to the bone. The scattered grasses which find root there are tossed in the icy breeze. Thorns stretch from one tree to another, weaving a complex web almost as if a giant spider had made the land its own.
I don’t think I could ever write something like that. That sort of play requires too much effort. Am I worried about what he’ll do three or five or ten years from now? Not really.
1. One of my most important presentations, Nurturing Competent Communicators, explains this concept fully: www.excellenceinwriting.com/ncc-e.
Andrew Pudewa is the director of the Institute for Excellence in Writing and a homeschooling father of seven. Presenting throughout North America, he addresses issues relating to teaching, writing, think- ing, spelling, and music with clarity and insight, practical experience and humor. He and his beautiful, heroic wife, Robin, currently teach their two youngest children at home in northeastern Oklahoma.
Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the March 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, family education magazine. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.
Publication date: April 5, 2013
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