Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Play: First of all, very few kids nowadays really get time to play. I don't mean playing sports or playing a game or anything organized that involves adults, but rather the play that's just messing around kind of play. When I was young, most of my after-school time wasn't structured. My Mom would gladly give me any art supply I wanted and anytime I was bored, I would pull out paints, pencils or the like. Every summer, I spent three months on a lake in Vermont with few organized activities. We swam, boated, hiked, and hung out with friends. Perhaps it seems, by our present standards, that some of that was 'wasted time,' but I would argue that this time was invaluable. I learned to figure out what I liked to do and ways to do it. And I played with other kids in unstructured ways. We built lean-tos in the woods, we built rafts and had competitions to see whose would float longest, we caught minnows and we just plain played. The point of all this is that kids need to play.

I am an art teacher. More and more I see students who don't understand how to play. They want to hurry through an art assignment and get a grade. They have no understanding of the joy of process: how wonderful it is to get completely caught up in making something; the feeling that time has stood still because you are so absorbed in the process of creating; the wonderful sense of making without really knowing what the ultimate product will look like. This state of mind is very good for you it turns out. It has been identified as the state of "flow" and has great benefits psychologically. There are other ways of describing this state, but if you've ever been totally caught up in something so that time passes without notice, or something has felt totally effortless, then you've experienced this state of mind. And if you've experienced it, I'll bet it felt good.

I think our students need to experience this. But in the world of 52 minute periods, bells, tests and other restrictions, they have learned that school is not the place to do it. I admit that a 52 minute period makes it hard for a child to get truly involved in a project. In my architecture classes, I see it everyday. My students are disappointed when I tell them they have to clean up. They are so involved with building their models, that they don't want to stop. They work through lunch; they come back after school; they don't want to go to other classes. Students often pursue their passions outside of school on their own time.

So here's the real question: how do we work within the parameters we have in place and still encourage our students' curiosity? How do we fully engage students in projects, so that what they are learning is interesting and useful? How do we encourage them to "play" with ideas, information, questions? How do we get them involved in the PROCESS?

I'd love to hear your thoughts. More of mine later...