Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Power of Play

I just read an article that I found encouraging: Play Power: How to Turn Around Our Creativity Crisis by Laura Seargeant Richardson

This is the crux of it, IMO:

Someday, rather than measuring memorization as an indicator of progress, we will measure our children's ability to manipulate (deconstruct and hack), morph (think flexibly and be tolerant of change), and move (think "with their hands" and play productively). Standardized aptitude tests will be replaced by our abilities to see (observe and imagine), sense (have empathy and intrinsic motivation), and stretch (think abstractly and systemically). We will advance our abilities to collaborate and create.

To reap the rewards of these abilities, we must set aside the myth that play and work are two separate things. Play should be our greatest work, as it is the biggest driver of innovation.

This quote reminded me of my niece Amy.

As soon as she learns a thing, she barely has the basics and she is already running out of the 'box' with it - building on it. I live across the country and don't see her often, but this aspect of her personality is very clear (and dear) to me.

For example: I sing a lot in daily life. There was a frog in the playground, so I was singing to Amy while playing on the swings: "I'm in love with a big blue frog, a big blue for loves me... " She'd heard the song a few times and the next time I saw her, she sang it with me, most of the words anyway... And Then she immediately started making up a new song, from her Mom's POV, about her mom's relationship with her partner: "I'm in love with a big, brown worm" with half the old words and half new words - telling me why each new part was delightfully relevant to her mom's unique, loving relationship. I was blown away: first by Amy's powers of observation and ability to 'stand in someone else's shoes.' And secondly, by her drive to start improvising; WELL Before she is done (IMO) learning the original...

Another example - I used to play 'car', and 'flying angel' and 'jumping devil' with my sister, Amy's mom, when we were little (I was 6 years older): with her riding on my knees and my feet and sailing and jumping around in the air. I have played this game with Amy a few times. And again, she is barely balanced and barely safe doing the usual 'moves' - and she is off and running: improvising new maneuvers: sideways, jumping off the side, coming on and off from the bed beside us (instead of the floor), and all kinds of unplanned, unanticipated (by me) antics. I work with her on communication and safety as best I can (I am old and broken so it challenges me, and she is only 6.5 years old and doesn't yet know She can be broken) so I try to find a happy medium that is relatively safe and relatively freedom-providing for both of us... and I am amazed: she comes up with a new thing, barely gets it (IMO) and is on to the next new thing - absolutely inspirational.

It amazes me how her play is SO original: so running for the 'edge' and right on past it into amazing creativity.

Reminds me of some of the adults I know (who also happen to be ADD-labeled) and what a joy it is to interact with them, because it is fun and because it helps me learn new 'tricks'. For example, my partner Michael loves to play with words, he is very lexy. And what I have found over the course of our relationship is that first my ability to Enjoy his word-play increased and;  secondly, my ability to play with words Myself is increasing as well.

Awesome note to self: playing with those who play well, increases my own creativity. Even old dogs can learn new tricks, as well as rediscover lost/squashed freedom and joy!

Meanwhile, I feel frustrated about the way our systems are designed to minimize movement as well as personal creativity. Many kids are not designed to sit inside, at desks, being socialized to be still and be 'good' all day. Some adults are not designed to sit at a desk, looking at a computer screen all day. Yet, for many of us, that is the drill.

How long is Amy going to keep accessing her mind-blowing creativity when she is constantly and consistently encouraged/rewarded to sit down, shut up and stay in the box most of the time? Particularly when she is actively punished, so often, when she breaks out of that box in creative self-expression, playfulness and movement of her body, as well as her mind and spirit. Honestly, I don't know how she has kept the freedom she has for so long. Bless her, unfortunately she is showing signs of wear - tightness and holding in her body, feeling like a square-peg in a round hole, acting-out. The pressures she is under from her teachers, peers and family to conform are enormous. Most everyone who cares about her is praying that she will 'get with the program' and conform; which is completely understandable given the world in which we live, but saddening.

I do what I can to support her to continually increase her internal senses, focus and self-discipline, so she can act in increasing accord with her enlightened self interest. This way she can play her own game more, and get played by the games around her less. I pray this for all the kids I love, for all of us...

Meanwhile, I am in good company to believe that the hope for playful creativity is stifled by our current social, educational, and even religious structures: every way we turn, conformity is the name of the game. Amy's creativity will continue to be undermined... AND by grace she will keep some potion of the playfulness and joy that she is, that she has.

And fortunately, each day, each of us has a chance to open, again, to the freedom that is our birthright, as well as the hope of each new generation. We adults have choices, paths ARE open to us now, even if they were closed to us in our youth. Today, let us be the play we wish to see in the world, as we can... WE can change the quality of our lives and our world. 

It is on this path that we yet again enjoy the Kingdom of God.

1 comment:

  1. My friend Olin, sent this amazing quote:

    But yield who will to their separation,
    My object in living is to unite
    My avocation and my vocation,
    As my two eyes make one in sight.

    For only where love and need are one
    And the work is play for mortal stakes
    Is the deed every really done
    For heaven and the future's sake.

    -- Robert Frost