Playful People Learn


“Creativity is intelligence having fun.”  A quote from Albert Einstein that I love.  Fun and play are often referenced as activities of the carefree, frivolous and sometimes careless.  Albert Einstein places it exactly where it needs to be.  Front and centre in learning.  In order to play, you are committing to action.  To participate.  To risk the unfamiliar.  To hypothesize.  To imagine possibilities.  To adjust to the unexpected.  To find humour.  To enjoy.  To appreciate.  To communicate.

I was at a conference recently where the speaker was casting aspersions on blanket statements about the merits of play.  He referenced that play needed to take a specific form in order to result in meaningful learning.  I don’t disagree that play can be structured to meet specific learning outcomes.  Teaching kindergarten was very much about structuring play activities to guide children to learn specific skills or develop background knowledge.  Opportunities were designed to encourage children to ask questions and go about finding the answers.  However this is looking at play from a narrow perspective.

A willingness to be playful is a habit that opens up the world.  It presumes a stance in the world that is positive and open to wonder and to other people.  One of the learning teams at my last school would meet on the balcony on Friday after school to drink a pop, debrief the week and chat about the upcoming weekend.  There was always laughter, a litany of responsibilities and plans for play on the weekend with family and friends.  There was a shared belief that those “play” opportunities were an important part of how we experience new things and open ourselves up to getting to know people and come back to school refreshed.

At times I bemoan the fact that middle school students stay late after school to congregate around their handheld devices.  I regularly prompt them to go play outside.  Yet, when I step back, they are collaborating on best strategies to use in the game or mediating turn taking.  When my nephews explained their fascination with the world of Minecraft, I finally came to the realization that higher order thinking skills were at play.  They were engrossed in the possibilities before them.  They were not focussing on the academics preferred by educators but they were learning things that mattered to them.

Roy Lichtenstein – Girl with Ball – 1961
Assuming a playful stance is engaging in structured play activities and more.  It reflects a belief that having sense of curiosity and engagement and wonder and appreciation of successes along the way allows us explore new pathways to learning.  Show me someone who is playful and I’ll show you a learner.  I’ll show you someone who is having fun!

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Mothers Who Play

For obvious reasons, I am thinking a lot about mothering today.  Mother’s Day tends to do that.  I was fortunate to have a mother whom I adored and provided an amazing model of steadfast love, tenacity and optimism that I have carried with me into my adult life.  I have also had many other woman who have mothered me, including my step-mother, my grandmothers, special aunts, special friends and mothers of my best friends.  They listened to my stories and told me theirs, gave me advice, sometimes solicited and sometimes not so much.  They put on the kettle to solve the problems of the world or drove directly to Baskin-Robbins 31 Flavours.   Yet, what they all had in common was that we laughed together, talked and played a lot.  Conversations and learning were not planned events but came out of hours and hours of time spent together.

When my own kids were very young and I was frustrated in the midst of a messy house in the suburbs, surrounded by laundry, I made my best mothering decision.   The sunshine beaconed but I was nowhere near finishing any of the housework or laundry.  I knew at that moment that I needed to choose.  I was going to clean the house and finish the laundry or we were going to the park.  Going to the ski hill, going hiking or biking, going to the beach, going to the park, going to the library or going in the hot tub won.  The house was messier than aspired for, but I heard the stories my kids were willing to share, fed their interests, laughed and got regular doses of joy.   On the downward slopes on the parenting roller coaster, they provided the promise of better days to come.

I remember reading once that regardless of teacher training methods experienced, teachers often taught in ways that were most familiar to them.  For me the biggest influences on me as a teacher, were the women who mothered me.   Beach time and double solitaire with my Mom.  My Auntie Myrna and her “What’s your story, Morning Glory?”  Knitting, crafting and collecting stuff with Nanny Keenan.  Endless games of Yahtzee and Parcheesi with Grandma Derksen.  Playing cops and robbers with my step mother in the convertible en route to Mayfair Market and annual trips to Disneyland, Knotts Berry Farm and the mall. Swimming up and down the pool with Mrs. Patrick debating anything and everything.  These were woman who liked to spend time with me, laughed freely and played with me.  What I brought with me into the classroom was a healthy appreciation of how I learned in environments where I was free to laugh and play with ideas and take more than one kick at the can to get it right.  They also taught me the importance of seizing the opportunity as it presented itself.  I feel so very grateful to the women who have mothered me.  They have helped me to learn the most important things I needed to do as a parent and as a teacher.