“I don’t think education is about centralized instruction anymore; rather, it is the process establishing oneself as a node in a broad network of distributed creativity . . . Play is about exploring the possible. In times of rapid change, exploring the possible becomes an essential skill. We don’t have maps for the territory of tomorrow. As a result, all citizens must become explorers of this emerging world. The best way to prepare for the emergence of the future is to learn how to be comfortable with uncertainty. To be comfortable with uncertainty, one must remain fluid, receptive and creative — in a word: playful.” Joichi Ito in The Power of Play in Learning
Both what Joichi Ito says and what Takaharu Tezuka’s does make me wonder how do you scale play according to age? and that question leads me to another question that maybe I should be asking first: should we even scale play based on age? why or why not?
This week I spent some time in our early childhood area of campus, simply watching kids do just what we are reading about. I saw kids problem solving, collaborating, inventing, imagining, compromising, socializing, struggling, planning, exploring, analyzing, adapting, rethinking, observing, processing, verbalizing, failing, experimenting, and persevering to name a few. I was in awe of how these skills were second nature to these four and five year olds and how they practiced them with such enjoyment.
And so as a teacher of grade 5, I walked back to the upper elementary section of our campus and thought of my students who will be entering the world of middle school in a few short months, and I couldn’t help but mourn the loss of that unstructured exploration. Our students in the upper elementary play, but their play is structured. Structured by curriculum, by teachers, by assessments, by peers, by after school activities . . .
And so once we are aware of this shift in how we allow kids to play as they grow up, then do we redefine play as Bud Hunt does? He says, “Play, then, is finding freedom in the face of constraint.” Is that how play changes as we age? Is that true for us as adults? Do we play by pursuing and enjoying freedoms within certain constraints? If so, why is that? Should it be that way? If it shouldn’t be that way, then how do we reverse that shift marked by aging and return to the unstructured play of Takaharu Tezuka’s kindergarten as adults, as college students, as high schoolers, as middle schoolers, as 5th graders? Maybe a clue lies in Joichi Itos’ original statement: “one must remain fluid, receptive and creative — in a word: playful.”
So what floats to the surface for me, amongst many wonderings, is: how can we lead classrooms to “remain fluid, receptive, and creative” places of learning as students progress through the grades?