The Lifelong Kindergarten group at MIT researches and develops strategies and technologies that engage young people in creative learning experiences. Consider how some of their insights and suggestions fit into building play as a learning element for your children as well as for yourself.
Are you modelling learning through play?
Steve: 00:34 Lifelong Kindergarten: Cultivating Creativity. In a research paper titled, “Give P’s a Chance,” projects, peers, passion, and play, Mitchell Resnick shares how the lifelong kindergarten group at MIT researches and develops new technologies, activities, and strategies that engage young people in creative experience. Their work there is guided by a constructivist approach that emphasizes the value of learners playfully creating personally meaningful projects, especially in collaboration with peers. Constructivism is based on the idea that people actively construct or make their own knowledge and that reality is determined by our experiences as a learner. Basically, learners use their previous knowledge as a foundation and build on it with new things that they learn. As I walk you through the four P’s that Resnick identifies, consider how they fit into your family activities for young people of all ages as well as for the adults. The first of the four P’s is projects.
Steve: 02:13 People learn best when they are actively engaged working on meaningful projects. We’re generating new ideas, designing prototypes, and refining them iteratively. In what’s called a creative learning spiral, we go through the steps of creating a project based on our ideas, playing with our creations, sharing our ideas and creations with others, and then reflecting on our experiences, all of which tend to lead to our imagination creating new ideas and new projects. As we go through this process over and over, we learn to develop ideas, try them out, test the boundaries, experiment with alternatives, get input from others and generate new ideas. So projects might be designing the snow sled or skateboard jump ramp or reconfiguring the backyard garden or exploring the possibilities of a home repair. Doing is critical to the value that trial and error have in the learning process. The second P was for peers.
Steve: 03:43 Learning tends to flourish as a social activity with people sharing ideas, collaborating on projects and building on one another’s thinking and work. Asking for and providing help increases the opportunities for discovery and learning. If you model asking for input on your thinking, that’s important for your children to see and to hear. The next P is passion. When people work on projects that they care about, they work longer and harder. They tend to persist in the face of challenges and they learn more in the process. It’s what educator Heather Lyon would describe as being absorbed in learning, the highest level of engagement. The last P is for play. Learning involves playful experimentation. Trying new things, tinkering with materials, testing boundaries, taking risks, iterating again and again and again. Resnick’s writing really sold me on that word tinkering. I see it as a good way to understand learning through play. Planning is actually less important than trying, observing, analyzing, making, testing, forming generalizations, seldom being sure what the next step is.
Steve: 05:27 In an article that Resnick wrote titled, “10 Tips for Cultivating Creativity With Kids,” he provides suggestions for each of the elements of that creative learning spiral. Imagine, create, play, share, and reflect. I’ve placed links to Resnick’s work in the lead into this podcast, along with other resources that connect to items I’ve mentioned within the podcast. Here’s some of Resnick’s suggestions. Show examples as a way of sparking ideas. When we see what others have done, it can create inspiration, even wondering how did they do that, can start a learning process As a starter, we may copy the model, but we often then go off on our own. Encourage your youngsters to consider how they can add their own style when they’re working from an example that’s been shared. Encourage messing around. Most people assume that imagination takes place in the head, but the hands are just as important.
Steve: 06:49 To help generate ideas for projects, encourage messing around with materials. What starts as an aimless activity can become an extended project. Do you have an example where moving a few things around led to the reorganization of the entire garage? Provide variety. The greater the diversity of materials and experiences, the greater the opportunity for creativity to develop. And embrace all types of making. Arts from clay, paint, wood glue, paper, technology options for designing tools, writing, acting, video, whatever resonates. I recall a day at the Creek, actually in the Creek with my grandkids. They became mesmerized with a large slate rock, scratching it with some stones and getting different results, causing chips of it to break off. As Granddad, I thought they were kidding when they ask if we could take the rock home, but after a good exercise walk, carrying it back to the car, it ended up finding a spot in their flower garden. It led to quite frequent tinkerings as well as a request for a book on rocks and minerals. Emphasize process over product. This always struck me as a teacher. Whenever I had students working on projects, the learning frequently occurred before the product was finished. The product kind of serves as a celebration and the sharing, but how we got there tends to be what drives the learning. You see, producing a play or a concert causes the learning to take part. The show is really a celebration of the learning.
Steve: 08:58 Create time for projects. Some schools schedule what they call genius hours, open time for students to explore and tinker with an interest. A colleague of mine called the quarantine a gift of time. Time for exploring, tinkering making. She had her daughters build a creative hour into their day. Her story is in a blog that you’ll find the link to in the lead-in. Resnick suggests that we consider being a matchmaker. Can we match our young person with other people who have common interests? Sparks from those conversations can often create flames of interest or we can match our children with a collaborator or a mentor. Sometimes we may end up being that collaborator or mentor. If you do be sure to remember, to find what I call the Goldilocks spot. Just the right amount of support. Not helping too much where you ended up owning the project or too little where you’re frustrated youngster gives up. You want to collaborate together.
Steve: 10:29 Another important thing we can do is to provide questions. I’ve done earlier, podcast on questioning and encourage and reflection. Resnick suggest questions like, “how did you come up with that idea?” Or, “what are you finding?” Or, “what’s been most surprising?” You also want to share your reflections. Reflecting, just like many other traits and skills that we want our children to develop, frequently need to be modeled. Consider talking out loud as you tinker. What are you wondering? What are you discovering and learning? Are you thinking about what possibilities might be next? Resnick provides in a video, an interesting metaphor, comparing a playpen to a playground. While children can play in a playpen, it is a little limiting in its opportunities. But on a playground, children have greater opportunities to move, explore, experiment, collaborate. They often make up their own games and activities. As pop-pop, I’ve played many of those games. Consider the playground opportunities that you create for your children, your teenagers, your grandchildren, and for yourself. Play, learn, and enjoy. Thanks for listening.
Steve [Outro]: 12:09 Thanks again for listening. You can subscribe to Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud on iTunes and Podbean. And please remember to rate and review us on iTunes. I also want to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on Twitter @stevebarkley, or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.