Learning through Play


Generally I don’t like riding a trend. Somehow here we are, right in the middle of the learning through play movement. As in any emerging field, there are tons of newly minted experts popping up at conventions and in city centers with fabulous visions, great ideas and buckets of energy. It’s easy to get swept up in the whirl of excitement. I started to question where I stand on education and its future. The dazzle of new opportunity blinded me.

I cleared my head. Or rather my son did. I had asked him to watch a video of kids designing games in a fun summer camp setting. He made it 1/2 way before he declared it “boring” and went back to the project he was working on in Minecraft. I started to get incensed, thinking he wasn’t really considering the opportunity. He wasn’t seeing what wondrous possibilities might await him, what working with a team of enthusiastic kids could merit. Then I took a step back, slightly bewildered, and realized that in his wisdom of few years, he’d cut to the chase. I wasn’t looking through his eyes, I was looking through mine, the eyes and mind that had been conditioned to play in an pre-organized way, to learn in a classroom, in a group.

These new classes/workshops/experiences are different. They are constructed to be child driven learning, with the focus on play, exploration, discovery and problem solving. But that’s it, right there in front of us. The design and the construction, is what makes it organized and less interesting to him. The “we have a challenge and need to address it” that’s given by the adult to the child to start the experience. The next step is the planning and process, which again is often set up by the adults involved. Of course they support the child’s dreams, desires, wishes but in the end it’s a program, a step by step process, that no matter how creatively based, it’s still not (in most cases), child driven. Even in the exceptional situations, programs like these are usually a group experience – and that means sacrifice.

I really thought about it, and thought about my personal experiences with education. I realized that I agreed with him, although I hadn’t seen it initially. That veil gone, I saw that organized programs almost never are better than an individual, or spontaneous experience. That taking a class on how to do something implicitly involves teaching or directed learning, and do I dare say it, often as not, harnesses and directs (or limits) creativity.

So does that infer there is less value to the experience? Perhaps not. Where there is freedom, a different self-directed experience can result. It’s a more creative experience because it’s not directed by outside sources. I am not suggesting to never take a class or a workshop. Exposure to new techniques, ideas, values, make for evolution of thought, and I find sometimes jump start me to a new level of creativity. But in contrast, spontaneous sparks are what take innovation to the next level. Time spent in “class”, “workshop” or with “directed learning” should be the limited experience, not the preferred method.

Learning through Play? Why yes! But learning through play in school? Certainly a better choice, especially compared to the traditional experience that most schools offer. Not a train for us jump onto, but fascinating to watch as it gathers speed…

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