Sunday, August 3, 2014
Play, Work, and Learning: Reflecting on the Make Cycles
Well, the summer make cycles have ended. I feel pretty good because I completed six out of the seven. The only one I didn't even attempt was the one about making a game. I really balked at that one because I never have liked games much. I mean board games or video games or organized sports. I was always one of those last picked for teams, and I don't have a particularly competitive nature.
However, when I was a kid the "games" I was best at were story games--you know role play games where we pretended to be people stranded on desert islands like Swiss Family Robinson, or kids exploring caves in fear of Injun' Joe. The other kids would say, "Let's play that game again, and you tell it. You make the best stories." And I would spin out a "game" I'd plundered from movies mostly, and I'd always take the boy's role because it was pretty clear that they got to do all the really fun stuff while the girls parts mostly involved imagining up clothes and sweeping out huts and taking care of babies or small animals.
We also played with little dolls and built worlds for them all around the various floors of the houses of my childhood. I remember playing with my brother, who used a Steve Austin action Million Dollar Man in a game so involved that we were both in tears at the end because the character I had died. !
The picture above is from a book I loved as a child called Knight's Castle by Edward Eager. (Illustrated by N. M. Bodecker.) The children in this book have done just as we did, used cans and boxes and books pilfered from here and there around the house, to create an elaborate world for their knights and ladies toys. (In the book the place becomes real at night when everyone but the children are asleep!) The clmooc make cycle got me thinking about this kind of game, this way of playing.
We all know that play is the work of children. And it is a joyful work that we lost ourselves in as children do today. I think of the many times I have called my children to come home, or told them it is time to leave a friend's house, only to have them say, "But we just barely started!" I felt the same way setting up all those imaginary worlds. We were organizing everything so carefully to prepare for play--we thought--that we didn't even get to play before time ran out. As adults we realize that the process, the preparation for play, was the play. The process is as valuable, and often more valuable, than the end product.
Wouldn't it be great if school work were so absorbing that children became oblivious of time? Project based learning should be like this. Building the project--thinking it up, putting it together, making it real. Emphasizing the process. The make cycles this summer have sharpened my awareness of this--brought it to the front of my mind in a way that already I am eager to push to the front of my teaching.
Also, children today don't seem to play like we did, or at least not as often. They aren't out there pretending to be this or that type of person in this or that place. They have screen games that show so much to them they don't have to think it all up. So, classroom projects become all the more essential for working that imaginative, playful, problem creating and solving part of the brain. I know I felt my brain stretch this summer. And for that I am thankful. Way to go clmooc! I intend to carry on.