On the Importance of Playfulness
For a while now, parents and educators have known that children learn through playing. This is no longer a revolutionary idea.
Yet still we need reminders of this all the time. Especially at the places where we are supposed to make the environment best suited for children: schools!
But rather than reiterate the research that no doubt you have heard before or can find in hundreds of other articles, I want to get you thinking specifically about a couple of things I recently found while doing my own research that might challenge you as they did for me.
The first is that doodling – yes, doodling, as in little drawings you make in the margins of your paper while sitting in an especially interesting meeting or lecture – has been discovered to be a significant source of concentration.
You read that right. Concentration.
TED guest speaker and author Sunni Brown has spoken and written about the power of the simple doodle. The core of her argument is that rather than prevent concentration, doodling enhances it by bringing together all four learning modalities into one exercise: visual, auditory, writing/reading, and kinesthetic.
Of course, before your child or students use this as a carte blanche justification to doodle rather than take notes, understand that the argument here is not that tuning out the speaker so you can doodle more freely provides the advantage but that doodling can be used as an effective means of generating ideas and working them out. For example, in group work.
Brown promotes and teaches this technique to businesses, especially those interested in idea generation and brainstorming. Not only does it get people thinking in more learning styles and thus unleashing more creative juices, it’s fun!
You know, adults could afford to have fun more often. For kids, it is the driving force behind 90% of their activities. Why, then, do adults discount it so quickly?
Which leads me to my second discovery: major companies like Pixar and Google incorporate playfulness and creativity into the very structure and organization of their buildings, both exterior and interior.
For example, many of Pixar’s staff work in cute miniature houses rather than cubicles (picture #1). At Google, there is a giant dinosaur inexplicably surrounded by pink flamingos (picture #3), and inside there is a huge metallic slide that can be used instead of stairs or the elevator (picture #2).
Probably there are now tons of other businesses that have copied these two wildly successful businesses that rely on the ability of their employees to think outside of the box.
My question is shouldn’t schools be the same? Why do they instead try to move everything toward conformity and a cookie-cutter feel? Why not stand out?
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am all for order and consistency. Children need routine and boundaries. Without them, children begin to feel uneasy and turn to the adult to provide some much-needed structure.
What I am here arguing is for the incorporation of playfulness into that structure. Playfulness does not mean anarchy or lack of control.
Rather, it means remembering what it is like to be a child and to have fun for its own sake. Only as an adult, you know that in playing, kids are learning more than they do from lectures or worksheets.
Playing, just like doodling, brings everything together for a child: imagination, creativity, mimicry, existing knowledge of how things work, personalization of the activity, as well as cooperation.
A classroom with a sense of playfulness is warm and inviting. It excites all who enter through a kind of secret, hidden promise of new discoveries that the student must uncover.
Beyond that, playfulness helps remove the barrier of fear of peer judgment. For that reason, adults can benefit from playfulness, too. Say, in a faculty meeting, for instance.
Whether you are writing a lesson plan, organizing your classroom décor, or coming up with the next teacher in-service, you would benefit from taking a moment to consider the lessons here from Google and Pixar, as well as that about doodling.
Let’s not blow something off because it is “childish.” Childish may actually be what many schools and teachers need.
As Dr. Patricia Kuhl wrote so wonderfully, “We human beings seem designed to complete our grandest projects by pursuing ordinary little joys.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.