Kids should learn through play: Why I would never put my kids in school
Sometimes I wake up during the night and can’t stop thinking about the school system. There are not many topics that concerns me as much as this. I hope to have kids in the not too distant future and it’s something I’m really trying to prepare for, by learning, reading and forming my own mind.
While I for many years thought there was something wrong with me, because I didn’t think I fit in the system of schools, I’ve come to learn that there are alternative ways to learn and educate. And those alternative ways might just be better that the typical factory-style, one-size-fits-all system that is the norm.
I had this small hunch or feeling, that I would really hate to put my kids in a normal school. It just didn’t feel right, so I started to read and research a bit. That has only lead me even more in the direction of choosing an alternative to the traditional school system.
So what’s wrong with traditional schools?
First, let’s go through some of the areas where I think the system is flawed:
#1 The skills of the future is not learned in the schools
Change is happening faster and faster and especially technology is changing the world and thereby also the jobs of the future. Changes in our society happen fast, but changing the school system (for example which subjects are mandatory) changes slow because the school system is a very big system.This means that the development of the school system will always be after the development of the real world. One example is that just recently, did the politicians in Denmark discuss if coding should be part of primary school. You can say that this difference in development pace is natural, and you’re right. But it still means that the skills needed in the future are not taught in school and the mindset that will be needed on the work market of the future is not something you learn in school either.
This means that the development of the school system will always be after the development of the real world. One example is that just recently, did the politicians in Denmark discuss if coding should be part of primary school. You can say that this difference in development pace is natural, and you’re right. But it still means that the skills needed in the future are not taught in school and the mindset that will be needed on the work market of the future is not something you learn in school either.
Today, the best way to learn the skills of the future is to do something outside of schools. Kids can learn programming better, faster and more personalized online than in schools.
#2 The school system was made for the industrial period
Schools are finely tuned to fit the industrial period, where we had to learn a lot of people the same things, so they could do the same tasks at factories (ask yourself if the bell calling in from recess doesn’t remind you a bit about the bell when workers at a factory are off?). The tasks at factories required a lot of people and it required that they had the same mindset about work and how it’s done.
The school system has been a perfect “factory”, producing workers for factories. The school system made sense for that period of our history, but what about the future?In the future there will be way less standardization in jobs, there will be much more different types of jobs and people not just change jobs throughout their working life, but they will change career multiple times.
In the future there will be way less standardization in jobs, there will be much more different types of jobs and people not just change jobs throughout their working life, but they will change career multiple times.In the future, due to automation of jobs and fewer typical factory jobs, we will have to live off other things, like being creative and entrepreneurial. Unfortunately, research show that kids get less and less creative the longer they go to school. We’re actively de-learning them the skill, they will need the most in the future.
In the future, due to automation of jobs and fewer typical factory jobs, we will have to live off other things, like being creative and entrepreneurial. Unfortunately, research show that kids get less and less creative the longer they go to school. We’re actively de-learning them the skill, they will need the most in the future.
“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education”
– Mark Twain
#3 It doesn’t make sense to put kids together based on their age
Putting kids in the same class and making them learn the same stuff, the same way just based on age is a system that is easy to manage and it’s probably the best system from an administration point of view, but from the kids point of view, it’s definitely not the best way of doing it.
Who says that two kids are ready at the exact same time to learn about algebra? It’s well-known that boys mature a bit slower than girls, so why do they have to learn the same stuff at the exact same age. It just doesn’t make sense. Besides the above
Besides the above point kids are missing a great opportunity when not being put together with kids of different ages and just kids of the same age. The psychologist Peter Gray, who I’m very inspired by, writes in this 3-article series about why we should stop segregating kids by age.
Some of his arguments are that younger kids look up to the older ones, and thereby act as great teachers. The older kids also learn by teaching the younger kids, because it makes the older kids reflect and what for example what is right and wrong in a given situation. It’s an incredible inspiring series of 3 articles, that I can’t recommend enough.
There is a big missed learning opportunity of kids not being with kids at different ages.
#4 More and more kids are getting diagnosed because they don’t fit in
More and more kids are getting diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). Again it’s a system that is extremely convenient. It’s more convenient for teachers, doctors, administrators and the system than it’s good for the kids. Everything is easier when we can put people in a box and say “this and this is wrong with him” and then look up in a manual how to solve it.
The challenge is, that humans are different and putting a lot of kids in a one-size-fits-all system, will not be a fit for everyone.
The question is if there is actually something wrong with all these kids or if it’s the system? I’m convinced it’s the latter. Kids are being forced to sit still the whole day when the most natural thing for kids to move. And when they are too active, they get a diagnosis and medicine.
I’m convinced that someday we will look back at this period of our history with the same way that we look at how we treated mentally ill people in the 50’s and 60’s. Kids are different and not all kids feel good by just sitting still and listening the whole day, it’s more natural for them to play and be active and learn through that.
#5 Schools are learning kids that there is a difference between work and play and thereby de-learning kids their natural love of learning
This is probably one of the most serious things that are wrong with the school system. Play should be kids’ work. Kids can learn everything they need through playing and playing is the natural way for kids to behave and to learn.
Unfortunately, our school system learns kids that there is a difference between work and play. Work is when you sit still in the classroom and do something you don’t like and recess is play. Recesses are only there for kids to blow off steam, so they can concentrate again for another 45 or 60 minutes in the factory. It should be the completely opposite way around.
We are making kids stay longer and longer in school and make them do more and more homework, with the results of more stressed kids. It’s not how kids (or most adults) learn the best.
The result is that we de-learn kids their very natural love of learning. Kids, completely naturally, love to learn. They love to ask and try stuff and they do it all from a kid’s natural curiosity.
Having a deep love of learning is probably the most important skill in education at all levels and in all situations. We should treasure and grow that, not de-learn kids it, so they can fit into a nice system.
#6 Schools should overall learn you 1) something that you can make a living by 2) how to live a good life. Are schools the best way to do that?
As we’ve discussed in the above, schools might not be the best place to learn the skills needed for the jobs of the future. I think that should be one of the school’s most important roles. Another thing school should teach kids is how to live a good life.
How to live a good life is about self-awareness, finding your passion, learning social skills etc. Because the whole system is a one-size-fits-all system, where what to learn, how to learn and when to learn is the same for everyone and because work and play get separated it can be extremely difficult for kids to learn these skills. Skills that are fundamental for living a happy life.
Another challenge when trying to develop these skills is that kids are just with kids their same age, and normally with the same classmates for 10 years, which makes it very difficult to get out of an existing role and thereby limiting the development of the kid.The result is that we have too many people not working with something they like or in the best case scenario, that people just find out very
The result is that we have too many people not working with something they like or in the best case scenario, that people just find out very late because they have had to get 20 years of experience after school in real life, breaking free of the mental limitations school has given them.
The way we’ve designed schools, we’re making kids anxious and giving them diagnoses when not fitting it. We’re actively learning them how miserable they will be when they go out and get a job like mom and dad. It’s the opposite of learning them how to live a good life.
If schools are not the best way to learn you something you make a living by and it’s not the best place to learn you how to live a good life, then why go to school?
“Children must be taught how to think not what to think”
– Margaret Mead
#7 Schools are just the most convenient system for governments, parents, and administrators, but not the best for the kids
Schools are expensive and therefore it has been important for governments to make them more effective, by putting more students in the classes, streamlining the education and pressure the salary of the teachers down.
Mass education is easier to manage and cheaper. It takes fewer teachers and administrators and from a financial perspective, it makes sense.
In our time, schools have also become a very convenient system for parents. In our time where growth and personal achievements are everything, people are busy working their asses off, so they can get a promotion and buy a bit more stuff. In their spare time it’s important in our society to be active, to travel, to work out etc. To do all of this and at the same time have a family, it’s extremely convenient to have the schools, an institution, where parents can set off their kids in the morning and have the whole day for themselves.
I’ve come to understand that a better, more playful, personalized education will take more from the parents than most do or feel capable of doing. This is one of the things, that concerns me the most. I have all these personal goals, I need time for myself and I have ambitions with my work. How do I balance those two things? I don’t have the answer.
Yes, I know… no system is perfect.
No system is perfect and the I don’t expect anything to be. Of course, no matter what way you choose to educate your kids, there will be less than optimal things. Plus, with the above things, you could also find positive things. The real problem occur when you have a combination of many things that are not working.
If the clutch on your car is defect, you go to repair shop and fix it. If the clutch is defect, the car is filled with rust, the exhaust system has fallen off and if there is a big hole in the roof, you have to consider if it’s a repair job or a completely new car you need. The more I’ve studied the school system, the more I feel, that I need to find an alternative. Considering that this is the system we put kids in for 10 years and it’s where their future, in many ways, get defined, we should be extremely careful about getting it right and leaving a very small margin of error. I don’t think just accepting how things
Considering that this is the system we put kids in for 10 years and it’s where their future, in many ways, get defined, we should be extremely careful about getting it right and leaving a very small margin of error. I don’t think just accepting how things are because it’s the norm, is okay when we’re talking something as important at kids’ childhood. Overall it’s a system so flawed, that a completely new system wouldn’t be out of the way. The big, big, big problem here is that this is difficult to change and it’s probably not realistic that the whole system will be changed. The combination of the school system being the absolute norm in the whole world, the many years it takes to just change small things within the existing system, the difficult laws in many countries for people who want to do it another way, just makes it both a difficult system to change and to navigate within if you don’t like the system / think there is another way.
I’m a huge believer in how technology can change things for the better. We’ve seen it in all areas of our lives and there is a lot of tech startups working within education (EdTech), many focused on using technology to make the classroom and the existing system work better.One of the ways I really believe that the existing system could be changed for the
One of the ways I really believe that the existing system could be changed for the better would be if technology could education much more personalized. Personalization of the subjects, pace and ways of learning would revolutionize the school system for the better and I think it’s the most likely thing to happen.Alternatives to the school system
Alternatives to the school system
Around the world, there is many different kinds of schools, where they have different focuses and philosophies. Some schools can be fantastic and a perfect match, but the big challenge is that choosing a school is often based on location. You need a school close to your home. Some schools turn things upside down and do things in a completely different way. In Denmark, I know that that’s very difficult because all private schools are mainly funded by government financing. To get that financing there are some rules to stick to and that means that there is a limit to how much they can change the school.
Concepts like The Green School in Bali and AltSchool (scroll down to read more about them) are great examples of schools that do things differently. I would love to be able to send my kids to schools like these for just a few years.
Home Schooling has seen a period of growth. More and more people choose to organize their lives so that they are able to spend more time with their kids and be responsible for the learning. The great thing about this is that each family can choose a direction and philosophy that they believe in. The difficult thing is, of course, to organize your life to make it possible.
Besides that, you would have to compromise with your own professional ambitions. When I discuss home schooling with other people, their main argument against it is the social element of schools. In Denmark, where we have a lot of clubs of spare time activity run by volunteers, I don’t think it would be a big problem, but in other countries, it might. It’s just one example of how much more proactive and engaged the parents has to be, to make it work. If you Google, you can often find small home schooling communities in different cities and through that, your kid can be with other kids.
One of the trends I’m most excited about is World Schooling. It’s more or less nomadic home schooling, where a whole family chooses to relocate or travel and see that as part of the education. Again it’s something that demands big flexibility from the parents. It’s not just something you do.I love this
I love this concept because there is so much to learn from traveling and engaging in local communities. I think more and more people are doing this one a 6-12 month basis. People are so sick and tired of always being busy and not being enough with their family, so more and more decide to take a family sabbatical and travel for a whole year. I know that in Denmark and Sweden there are TV programs about families doing that.
World Schoolers see it as a lifestyle and incorporate education into the traveling, instead of just breaking free of the traditional system for a year.
Projects and people that’s inspiring me within education
There are a ton of projects, companies and in the end a ton of people trying to change education for the better. For me it seems like there is a grassroot movement of startups, projects, speakers etc., really pushing the change of education and I wouldn’t be surprised if a big, global change to the system would come from a grassroot level.
These people and projects inspire me and I can’t recommend enough to check them out:
Worldschoolers is a Facebook group for people who have chosen to home school while traveling. They see travel as education and value to have more time to experience more with their kids. This group has been a big inspiration for me because it really opened up for a world of people that I could relate to. Join this group if you want some inspiration of how living and education can be completely different than normal schools.
Find the Worldschoolers Facebook group here.
I just visited Green School in Bali a few days ago and I must say it pretty much blew my mind. For quite a long time I wondered if the whole concept of school (a community coming together each day for structured learning), was in any way a good idea. Green School is an example of how it can be done. Their school is different, not just because it’s an international school in the middle of the jungle in Bali or because it consists of only bamboo buildings.
Their teaching is different because it’s mainly focused on different themes, where the kids are actively working with something and through that learning for example math. The school has a big focus on sustainability and entrepreneurship, all classrooms are wall-less and for me, it seemed like they are learning a lot more through play than just sitting and listening.
Read more about them here. If you’re ever in Bali, I really recommend you to go and visit. They do tours most weekdays and it’s awesome!
AltSchool is a network of schools practicing a more personalized form of education where there is a big focus on skills like self-awareness and collaboration skills. It’s highly focused on developing skills of the future and they do their own research to keep improve the material and the form. While it’s currently only in three states in the US, it’s not a school that is available to a lot (yet), but AltSchool can really act as inspiration for how the school of the future could look like.
Check out AltSchool right here.
Khan Academy offers free online education in a lot of different subjects all the way from kindergarten to university level. It’s an inspiring concept because it can act as a tool for parents and teachers to do more personalized learning based on the actual interest of the kids.
Check out Khan Academy here.
Peter Gray is a psychologist from the US. I don’t know much about him, but he writes a super inspiring blog on PsychologyToday called Freedom To Learn. His articles on learning through play and research about the school system are extremely interesting and his articles on PsychologyToday are easy to stuff to read and a good place to start.
Read about Peter Gray on Wikipedia here and check some of his articles here.
Sir Ken Robinson
There is no way around Sir Ken Robinson. His TED talk “Do Schools kill creativity” is one of the most viewed, shared and commented TED talk ever. And it deserves to be because it’s extremely good. His books and talks are probably the most spread information in the world about how to change education for the better.
Find Sir Ken Robinson on Wikipedia here and find all his TED Talks here.
“Ideally, what should be said to every child, repeatedly, throughout his or her school life is something like this: You are in the process of being indoctrinated. We have not yet evolved a system of education that is not a system of indoctrination. We are sorry, but it is the best we can do”
– Doris Lessing
These are the counter arguments I get when mentioning these thoughts at dinners etc.
#1 You’re just angry because you didn’t fit in the schools / didn’t get an education
I’m not angry or “pissed” at the education system. I just feel there should be a better way. I get this argument quite a lot when discussing education. The truth is that I’ve invested a lot in the school system and I’ve even paid for my own university education (I still have one year left). Paying for your own education in Denmark is absurd, to say the least. I’ve invested time and money in the traditional education system, but I’ve always felt there had to be a better alternative.
#2 That’s all really nice, but how should I be able to afford/have time to world school or home school
That’s the big challenge! I would love to be able to give a simple answer here, but I don’t have one. My “research” so far, has taught me that doing education they way I want it, would require a big investment and you would have to compromise with other stuff in your life. Maybe there is a smarter way, but for now, I see it as a good thing because it can be a way for the family to be more together. There is no doubt that serious planning is required!
#3 But there is also many good things about the school system
Of course, there is. I also have great memories from school and I know many people who had teachers that have been super important for them. I didn’t have a terrible time in school and I totally agree, that there is also good things about the system. I just feel that the overall system of traditional education is flawed. It’s the system there is something wrong with, but a lot of politicians, administrators, leaders, teachers, and parents are trying to do great things within the system.
My dream of educating my own kids
My thoughts and the time I’ve spent researching education and the alternatives have been with one goal in mind. To try to define a way to educate my own future kids.
While I love the idea of finding a school somewhere in the world that does things completely differently and I especially love the idea about world schooling, I also know that things are difficult with kids. To be able to stuff like that you have to design your life around it.
So far I’ve just come to the conclusion that I want to be more involved. I hope I will be able to take actively part of kids education and growing up. I hope I will never put them in a normal danish school. I would feel terrible about that.
I hope to be able to home school / world school, at least for some years. In those years I hope that we as a family can develop a moral compass and a deep love of learning. I want to take responsibility for my kids developing those skills, and when that’s deep in them, I think it would be great if they could try other things, like for example AltSchool, Green School or another kind of school.
What I think is absolutely key is those two skills, and then personalized learning. I really hope to be able to have kids that can experiment and play their way to finding something they are passionate about. I see my role as a parent to facilitate that in the best way possible.
I do feel that more and more communities, alternative schools and startups trying to do education differently are popping up. So I hope there will be even more possibilities in the near future and that it will be more known and normal to take different routes.
I don’t have any kids. I really want to have kids and hope it’s something happening in a not too far future. Every time I discuss kids and education with other people, I get the response that I don’t know what it’s like because I don’t have kids. Some even say that I shouldn’t have an opinion about something I haven’t tried. I understand the point. I really, really respect parenthood and I understand that having kids is something that changes your life like nothing else. I won’t know how that’s like before I try it. But please understand that I’m just trying to prepare to be a parent and to learn about something that I feel is very important. Please understand that I’m not trying to judge anyone, I’m just trying to find my own way.
Inspiring thoughts Nikolaj. I think you are absolutely right about how we in the future will look back and realize that the today’s all-fits-the-same-size model not was the best! For now I use a lot of time thinking about the crazy diagnosis hype and I feel so damn sorry about it. My experience is that many people unfortunately are not sceptical about it. They just want to have an answer for their sorrys and their normal (sorry for that) life crisis and they love when they get it! After that, we are buying a lot a medical stuff because we think it is necessary. It’s is an follower to the diagnosis, right! We are not talking much about all the money-thing behind the medicine. I think your perspective will help here.
[…] 5 years ago I wrote a post called “Kids should learn through play – Why I would never put my kids in schools”. The post was done around 1,5 years before we got our first child and even before we started […]