“Let the Children Play” – a Book Review

Let the Children Play” is the last book from my long list of winter/spring reading, which I wanted to write about and still didn’t. This book is relatively new, and based on my interest in education, especially in American and Finnish secondary education. I should have been among the first people reading and reviewing it. Indeed, this book was in my to-read list for a while.

However, after I finished the book, I was unsure how I felt about it, and I decided to let it sit for a while. Then the quarantine happened, and the topic of in-person education was too painful to address. But since I do not believe that our education is altered forever, I decided I will still write a review.

There are many excellent observations in this book, and all the right things are said, but there were still things that bothered me.

What I didn’t like, was a description of an American school and American parents. It does not seem to resonate with my experience. Sure, parents like that exist :), but that’s not an accurate picture of a typical American parent. One of the reasons could be that Sahlberg experienced an American school in a very academic environment. He was trying to place his child into pre-school close to Sanford, where, I guess, the school standards were aligned with very specific demands of parents in academia. Moreover, I have a suspicion that many of these parents themselves never attended at American school when they were small children, and that their expectations might have come from a different culture.

I may be wrong with the above speculations, but I am sure – it’s not like a school my kids went. From day one in school, I admired the way their teachers made the learning process fun. The kids didn’t even know it was “education.” Fro their point of view, they were playing, doing art projects, listening to their teacher reading books, doing puzzles, and then all of a sudden – “check whether your child can count to one-hundred.”

My second objection is that I can’t entirely agree with the authors that “letting children play” will resolve all school problems. Especially towards the end of the book, that’s how it sounds: just let them play, and everything will be fine. Although the authors cite some experiences in low-income communities, underfunded schools need funds. And schools in communities with a history of socioeconomic disparities need more help as well.

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