Burnt Toast & Spilled Milk

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Bleep. Bleep. Bleep. The morning alarm goes off like a giant mozzie on steroids. You rub your eyes, push the child’s leg off your head, gather some breathing space and hit snooze. You lie back, small arms wrap tightly around you as you try to recall what you have to do today, what day even is it?! 

Bleep. Bleep. Bleep. “Oh man that WAS NOT ten minutes and where are my blankets?!” Giggles from deep below begin to emerge and a little voice pipes up, “We’re wombats!” You sit up and watch the two lumps under your blankets move slowly down the bed. You watch your blankets follow suit. You lie back again, sans blankets, half asleep and realise you still haven’t figured out what day it is.

Wednesday! It’s Wednesday. Right, I’ve totally got this. But first, coffee.

You enter the kitchen and are greeted with wonderful chaos: the aftermath of breakfast time. Bowls overflowing with milk. Oats on the floor. Sticky honey dripping down the bench and squashed banana or perhaps snot wiped on a chair. Why is it wonderful chaos? Read: AFTERMATH of breakfast time. The children fed themselves. You feel like you are already winning today.

Ah coffee. As you sip your piccolo, you begin to recall the days callings. Preschool for the youngest. School for the others. Library day for one child. Sports day for another. Did I wash their sport uniform yet? Surely it hasn’t been a week since they wore it. Karate after school. Swimming lessons. Geez how many children do I have? Groceries. Did I sign that excursion note yet? Do we have any appointments today? Oh I start work early today. Can’t forget that. Children. Can’t forget them either. Speaking of which…why is it so quiet?

Upstairs you find a note taped to your bedroom door, ‘wombt hom’. You stand in the now open doorway and stare open mouthed at the space. Your relaxing private haven has become a cluttered, chaotic mess. Pillows lay scattered on the floor. Blankets hang from hooks you didn’t even know were there- oh wait nope sticky tape on walls. A pile of leaves is clumped in the far corner, the kids have been outside? And how did they even manage to move the bed?? Your room is completely unrecognisable. Your gaze moves to the three sleepy wombats who come crawling out from underneath. Proud as punch and deeply in character they begin to rub their behinds on your leg. You feel torn, they are having such fun but you don’t have time for this. “I am Hairy Nose Itchy Butt!” exclaims one. “Yeh, I really need to scratch my butt” giggles another. “Do you like our Wombat house?” they asked in unison. They stop. All eyes are on you, awaiting your response.

You know your response will determine what will happen next, not only for their play but for each child holistically too. Think: behavioural, emotional, confidence and self esteem. You take a breath and look past the cluttered chaotic mess to really observe your surroundings. You notice the scattered pillows are purposefully placed segregated dens, equally spaced and symmetrical creating a fair play space for all. The blankets, although they are sticky taped to the wall you notice a pile of pegs on the floor from previous attempts to problem solve. Alongside the pegs lays a book, ‘Hairy Nose Itchy Butt’, a family favourite. You see they have dramatised the story and even extended it, all on their own. The sign on the door, although spelled incorrectly with backwards letters is a great attempt at making sense of literacy, it’s incredible. You see mathematics, problem solving, language, literacy, imagination, engineering and more. “It’s amazing!” you reply, your open mouthed now curled into a big smile. Your response is met with three proud grins, and you are pretty sure you saw an actual sparkle of confidence and self esteem fly past. Then you take a breath and add, “But it’s a school day. Time to get ready.” This response is met with frowns, protests and complete devastation.

Cue the morning rush where your children turn from playful wombats into ACTUAL SLOTHS. From packing lunchboxes, to unwashed sports clothes, lumpy socks, lost library books and that one child who actually thinks they are a wombat and keeps disappearing back into the wombat house. Protests of not wanting to go are demanded. Pleads that they just want to play are cried. Did someone just actually say their legs can’t work? Parent guilt creeps up, patience becomes thin as your morning goes from ‘I’ve got this’ to ‘Why am I yelling for?!’ How do those Pinterest Perfect Parents do it? Surely they are robots not actual human beings?? Who’s idea was this whole going to school 5 days a week thing, and why does it have to start before 9am?! *breathe*

As your morning continues to turn upside down, thoughts enter your head looking for someone to blame. It wasn’t the children’s fault, they just want to play. It wasn’t your partners fault….although….no no, they aren’t even here. Those Pinterest Perfect Parents certainly set the bar high, but you know it’s not reality. What about the school itself? Yes. IT. IS. ALL. THEIR. FAULT! They have ruined your morning. “If the school allowed children to learn through play, my mornings would be easier. The kids would want to go!” blood boils as you shout to your mirror self. You imagine a world where Peter Gray is King….

“Self-education through play and exploration requires enormous amounts of unscheduled time—time to do whatever one wants to do, without pressure, judgment, or intrusion from authority figures. That time is needed to make friends, play with ideas and materials, experience and overcome boredom, learn from one’s own mistakes, and develop passions.” 
― Peter Gray, Free to Learn.

Before you leave you take one last glimpse at the Wombat House. You smile and decide to leave it up, texting your partner a photo of it in case they get home before you. School may not be flexible in their teaching methods, but you can still provide the time, space and resources they need to play at home. It’s all about balance. You will find time and patience for this. Chose your battles and absorb positivity from your playful children. Weekends will be amazing! Your re-discovered sense of calm and awe has brought you back into the state of ‘I’ve got this’. Suddenly you hear ‘MUUUUUMMMMMMMMM’ echoing down the hallway, snapping you out of your play based school day dream and you realise you have been talking to yourself in the mirror. As reality hits a waft of smoke hits your nostrils. You enter the kitchen and are greeted by your children madly  waving tea towels in the air, “Mum you forgot your toast!”  Calmly you flick off the power point, open the window and encourage everyone out the door. Burnt toast will not ruin your day!

Fast forward to the afternoon. School pick up. Car fights: Really, did you have to look out his window?! I’m sure her leg was there first, it is her seat after all. How are you even reaching him, damn you’re flexible! I’m going to put walls of perspex between your seats if you don’t stop hitting each other.  You try to take a moment to hold a conversation with your children asking, “How was your day?” “What did you do?”. Each attempt is met with the same response, “Nothing” or “I forgot”Once home, it is a race from the car to the wombat house. Play takes off where it was left and all car fights are forgotten. Their world is drawn in deeply to their imagination. New ideas develop and the play evolves.  What ever they did all day at school, you can bet they didn’t turn their classroom into a wombat house. If only they could…

 Disclaimer: Parts of this story may be based on true life events, although due to the amount of coffee beans harmed in the process we can not be sure where true reality actually lies.

Written by: Bec Carey

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