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…


Analog vs. Digital Learning – is it a choice or a partnership?

I’ve just realized that our journey through homeschooling is like a marriage of the analog & digital worlds. While I have a long standing love of all things paper, my son is living in a digital age and for him the paper world is not often his first choice.

and yet…

I’ve noticed that while he’ll happily turn to the ipad or itouch to play games, he’s also entranced by a deck of cards. Instead of seeking out the ipad to play Mastermind he reaches to the analog version. Playing Minecraft seems to revitalize Lego creativity. Sometimes the watching of a movie inspires reading of a book. He likes to be read to from a real book rather than from a digital one. A surprising thing in this age.

The digital keyboard hooked up to Garageband seems to only render the piano in the other room more respect. The curiosity which is piqued spills over into anything related. Why didn’t I see it? It makes sense that it is really not important how the sparks are created as long as they fly and ignite other quests and explorations. The trip we take is a mental resource book, filed on the shelf. The TV show I detest spawns a new understanding of how to deliver a one-liner.

In this digital web-driven world we are living in, I wonder how to keep the analog fresh, inspiring and alive? But perhaps I shouldn’t be that concerned. My love of analog things seems to have been adopted by osmosis, rather than abandoned as I feared.

Likewise I am important. My quest for testing something new, or revisiting something old does not go unnoticed. The art class I take, the book I pick up, the recipe I try, are all appreciated by a quiet observer. He’s even looking over my shoulder as I type this, wondering why I’m typing and re-typing. “What’s editing, he asks?”

He might not be interested in the subject matter right now, but all that happens, which goes by, in his world, is noticed. If I share a new passion, it might not currently be of interest, but it’s as if it’s filed for future reference. The potential energy, the empowerment is created too. The old adage that knowledge is power, doesn’t mean you have to be an active participant through the acquisition process. To plant a seed and pluck a pea or tomato, to smell the roasting coffee in the oven, or see the rising loaf on the counter. Taken for granted, but not ignored. The analog is noticed even if it’s just around. The power of knowing.

Every once in a while, I panic. I evaluate what we do, or don’t do, or could be doing, and I find holes. What is important in the reality of it all, is the learning, experience, wisdom and knowledge itself. The achievement through analog or digital or some of each is party of the journey in which we are always learning. The key to the partnership of Analog & Digital, is making sure they are both around and accessible.

Life in a half a day…

A home day today. All activities canceled as I’m under the weather and not really feeling like doing anything… So at 2:45pm I figure the day is shot as I’ve accomplished nothing… then I reflect.

It’s no wonder I never get anything done because I’m so busy doing stuff.

What we did today (so far):

  • Made Waffles
    Watched the End of The Great Race & the entirety of Cannonball Run
    Fielded emails about Hotel reservations for Europe.
    Restructured the itinerary for Europe reflecting the emails.
    Made Chicken Stock
    Replied to email request for an interview.
    Trent built a helo-bot out of Lego and i got to view it and the A-team ship he modified.
    Figured out the Snap Electronics Kit with Trent and watched him build models (including a number of custom ones).
    Diverted some of the experimenting 1) so it didn’t wreck the set or 2) cause sudden injury – while trying to support exploration and tinkering.
    Made lunch so the boys could eat al fresco on the upstairs deck (the red fox was sleeping on the garage roof nearby) while they played cards.
    Reminded Trent he had to p/u the neighbor’s paper (his job this week)
    Strained the stock and made celery soup.
    Made Tea.
    Took out a pork tenderloin to defrost for dinner
    Made orange-ade with trent from the sour oranges the boys foraged from the neighbor’s tree while Trent was bike riding.
    Pressed a fallen orchid flower.
    Fielded an email from our favorite tomato grower arranging to p/u biodynamically grown plants this weekend.
    Attempted to book a SF hotel for later this week.
    Scoped out a couple of German, Austrian & Italian hotels.
    Watched Trent make a windmill out of the Snap Circuit motor and a piece of mylar circuit board he pulled out a toy he disassembled.
  • and of course read personal email, twittered and facebooked… and blogged.

    See I did NOTHING.

    The Windmill

    The Helo-bot
    The A-team transport

    Passions… Letting them flow

    My son returned home from a 4-H project this weekend with a new passion. He was compelled to continue work on his new creations the second he walked in the door, then later in the evening and then the next morning and through the next day. If it weren’t for other daily events he probably would have worked on his new passion non-stop.

    I love to see those sparks in him – whatever it is, whenever it happens. The spark of an interest so intense that it’s real passion. It’s not that rare at our house and I love that even more.

    Constructions & Construction…

    My day started before dawn and then sped up to light speed. Our neighbor was kind enough to share some Sweet Pea plants she had bought at the nursery today and it’s a great reminder of how gorgeous it was outside today and conversely how much dreaded work has to be done in the garden before spring planting could even hope to commence.

    Throughout the excitements of the day, we found out that driving a rental car to Czech Republic and Italy is unlikely to be allowed. We calculated that flying in/out of Amsterdam was just too big a loop for this adventure – especially if we want to venture into Austria. So it looks like in/out Frankfurt if we can’t split the ticket between Frankfurt & Munich.

    This afternoon was a Construction & Engineering Project Meeting where we made bristlebots – our version which had a customized battery holder which allowed the bot to be turned off by simply removing the battery. I made testing tracks our of foam insulation and weatherstripping (and had the time of my life making them). My dad did the drilling of the battery “cases”. 13 kids, seemingly a million ZOTS and countless bristlebot modifications later I sat down for a whole hour. Then dinner beckoned. Pancake Tuesday resulted in Chocolate Chip, Blueberry, Banana & Plain pancakes, bacon, sausage and accoutrement.

    Then a whole evening of researching accommodations and driving distances for the Mosel & the Rhine. The current finds include:
    SA Prum
    Schloss Zell
    Hotel Schoenburg
    Villa Hammerschmiede

    Perhaps I’ll sleep well tonight. I have Coco Before Chanel to watch if I can stay awake.

    Things are moving rather slowly now…

    On BristleBots:

    The original Evil Mad Scientist Version
    Our Version & Our Track:


    My 7yr just successfully deconstructed (aka took apart) a Phonics Writing Desk. We weren’t expecting much but were surprised to find some interesting mylar printed circuits and rubber pads to touch connections and a gear mechanism and some switches. The most amazing thing were the number of screws. Next project up is a VCR.