This past Saturday, our family had the pleasure of attending a small, intimate wedding on the beach for my beautiful cousin, Rebekah, and her sweetheart. They are both gracious and kind individuals, people truly worth celebrating! It is no wonder my four-year-old was enthralled throughout the entire event. This was, after all, the first wedding she has attended (aside from when she was an infant). Everything felt special and magical — the flowing white gown from her fairy tales; the sand squishing between her toes — it was no ordinary day.
As soon as we got back in the car for the drive home, she insisted that she was getting married tomorrow. “Oh really?” we asked. “That takes quite a bit of planning and preparation.” She was up for the task. The rest of the night we could see her mind racing.
Every once in a while, she would tell us details about the wedding or ask us to complete tasks. She asked me to contact my sister, who had come in town to officiate my cousin’s wedding, to make sure she could come “read the love book” for her wedding.
Finally, we asked, “Who do you plan to marry?”
“Mochi.” She answered with certainty, as if we should have known. Mochi is her lovey that she sleeps with every night. A little, squishy bear.
On Sunday morning, she woke up ready to get started with the preparations. We invited guests, tended the garden, decorated our front “cover up” as she calls it, and then she created their “love book” with her aunties. This was the most incredible part. They used pieces of her drawings and coloring pages to put together a book. Then, they proceeded to ask each other questions about love, companionship, devotion, comfort. My daughter was playing and pretending, but also learning how to express her wants and needs, while discussing what it means to have a connection with other people. She spoke these words, she wrote them in her love book. She painted around them and made them come alive.
On a side note – We started “school” this past January in our garage. Each day, she and I would head to our classroom at 9:00am (when her baby sister went down for a nap) and learn about the calendar, numbers, letters, reading, sight words, handwriting. It was heaven for me, but I never forced her to go. As much as I LOVE teaching her, I also want to instill a sense of autonomy over her own learning. Foruntately, every day she wanted to go.
She devoured numbers, letters, sight words, books. Learning letters was exciting… until she knew them. Then, the daily practice became a chore. She began to complain, so we stopped going outside for “school” and started going outside for other activities – gardening, painting, chalk drawing and writing, decorating the front porch with plants. Yes, this activity of decorating the front porch was not new as we prepared for the wedding. It was something she has done before. That practice led her to pick this place as the venue for her wedding.
And this is how she learns. She no longer sits and practices random words that go with a particular letter. She creates and writes “love books,” sends invitations for a slumber party to her loveys (stuffed animals/dolls) almost every night, and paints pictures and writes letters to her friends. She knows the letters, and in turn, can write words when spelled out to her. As she masters this skill, we will no longer spell words with letters, but rather phonetically, teaching her the concept of phonics. This will also help her to learn to read. Her play feels random, but we help facilitate an intentional lesson, grounded in her real-world experiences.
As we neared the time of the event, each of her guests (human and stuffed) arrived and took their seats. Mochi and my sister stood at the end of the beautifully decorated front porch and waited. Smiling from ear to ear, you could feel the joy radiating out from within her. She was surrounded by people who love her, these are her teachers.
She spoke the words in her love book with confidence and clarity. She created this moment. With her creativity, her imagination and a little support, she was able to bring people together to share and express themselves in such a positive way.
This is self-directed learning and we have an opportunity to embrace it every day. We have the choice to trust that our children know themselves and that they are learning through their daily experiences. We can be intentional about those experiences, while giving them the freedom to forge their own path. Through this play, my daughter practiced organization, planning, preparing, writing, painting, public speaking, discussing her ideas and thoughts, and so much more!
Sapna Academy is a place that celebrates play and pretending! We offer students a wide range of enrichment and academic choices to allow them the autonomy to discover their passions and interests. This approach gives us the opportunity to teach the whole child – mind + heart – thus developing 21st century problem-solvers, life-long learners, and empathetic leaders for our future.