In the last post, I talked about the natural partnership of creativity and tinkering. Once again, I am inspired by Dr. Henry Olds and want to expand on the idea of play. In his article, Iconic Pattern Play, he finds, with Dr. Walter Drew, that "unstructured, child-initiated creative play can strongly contribute to children’s growth and development."
With two young children the concept of play is no stranger at our house. Besides what better excuse than an 18 month olds pleading eyes?
But in classrooms? All too often play isn't visible in learning environments designed for students above the age of 5. Play isn't silly, play isn't a waste of time. Play is essential to cementing concepts through application, but only when it is without outside expectations. This kind of intrinsic joy in figuring things out is easily seen in students in the Kinder classes, but with massive time limitations and content expectations, we rarely see open-ended, unstructured free play above this level.
Yes, we might often let students play or even experiment, but even when we do, we often inteject with questions that are leading, such as "Is that a pattern you are creating?" Even when we listen, are we "listening to them, or listening for something" we are hoping to hear? (Thank you ECOO presenter Jonathon Rajalingham)
Even if we try to ask questions that aren't leading, the simple act of asking requires a response and may be more teacher-centered than student-centered. Now what the child is answering us and is no longer doing something they initiated. The asking of a question means we are expecting a response, moving the focus off of the students back to us and our expectations.
I for one have a very, very hard time just listening and not trying to talk about what is happening. To help, I have been trying to label what is happening, rather than asking questions. In Parent Child Interaction Therapy, (PCIT), you describe behavior (only good behavior) and reflect (repeat back student speech). This simple act of stating what you see, not judging or asking questions, lets a child know that you are paying attention and focusing on them in that moment. You are there without judgement and expectations.
Play is most powerful when it doesn't come with expectations. This frees our mind from concerns about outcome and helps us take risks. Unstructured means the learner can be in the moment and better focus on process and see connections. This leads to serendipity - desirable discoveries by accident. Although maybe not quite as much by accident as we think.
I think this is true for everyone's learning journey, not just that of students. Henry reminded me of this again with his beautiful journey. Inspired by watching and supporting student learners, Henry has been doing his own pattern play in "retirement" with dazzling results! One example of his latest play is now the header for the Arlington Open Studio blog! Read the story and visit his web site.
Where will your play take you?