School really SHOULD be all “fun and games!”

How many times have you heard someone working in a school say that the purpose of the organization “isn’t all fun and games?”  How many times have you heard an educator or administrator say something like, “it’s school, it’s not SUPPOSED to be fun!”?

I’ve said it.  You’ve said it.  We have all said it at some point or another.  It’s exciting to know, however, that it wasn’t always so.  Prior to the onset of industrialization in Europe, most cultural transmission took place via stories and games among small groups of people.  People learned what they needed to know in order to live in the environment they were born into (hunting, gathering, agriculture).  Periodically, as there emerged a more skill-based economy, some people were afforded the opportunity to apprentice with a “master” artisan in a particular discipline and would learn a certain set of skills by performing hands-on tasks that would ultimately result in the acolyte becoming a master in his own right.  As parts of the world began to industrialize, workers who could punctually perform repetitive tasks became necessary and schools were established to feed the need of a basically educated workforce.

While this is a gross glossing-over of the history of human psycho-social development, the point is that “School” as we know it is only about 250 years old whereas our predisposition to learn by playing is at least 10, 000 years developed.  As a species, we have spent about 40 times longer learning through play than through any other means.

So why aren’t schools more playful?

Immediately following this statement, I caution myself to mention two things:

  1. Some schools certainly are playful and, on the whole, I applaud the progressive efforts of the ranks of early-childhood and elementary teachers in creating wonderful and engaging programs.
  2. Much playful impetus in secondary schooling is crushed under the perceived weight of assessment standards that can seem to corral instructional creativity.  I don’t think they necessarily have to, but you’ll find I’m optimistic like that.

On the whole, though, as a person comes out of middle school and into secondary education, it seems like all the fun of school somehow gets sucked into the black hole of this grim spectre of “growing up.”  This has, in my experience, always been equated with being kind of stuffy and without room for play.  Happily, science is starting to shine some happy light on all these fun and games!

In the video I share below, Stuart Brown makes just one compelling case for the importance of play in human development.  As an educator of high-risk youth, I am delighted to hear some of the things that this researcher has discovered about play deprivation and it’s ensuing impacts on humans.  It greatly supports years of “hunches” I have had that, basically, we are all children with steadily-increasing vocabularies.  The thinkers I have come to respect in my exploration on the topic all seem to rally behind one thing: “the child’s mind is the enlightened mind.”

It is important to create opportunities for students to tackle prescribed curriculum in such a way that their own playfulness is engaged as an integral part of the learning.  With this in the forefront of my mind, I can’t wait to get started with this new school year of “fun and games.”  I am willing to bet that the more of this we all have, the more satisfied we all will be!

Here is the video:

Also, here are some great links:

The State of Flow

Clayton Christensen – Author of “Disrupting Class.”

Tim Brown – TED talk about Creativity and Play