I stumbled across our Monsters, Inc DVD last night and one of the key themes replayed in my mind…the realization at the end of the movie that joy/laughter creates significantly more power than fear.


I think we need to revisit this theme with respect to learning and school. So many of our policy decisions right now are based on fear of falling behind and trying to teach kids the “right” ways to do things as quickly as possible, eliminating true discovery and joyful novelty from school day learning. But we’re not just eliminating opportunities for inventive, creative self-expression during the school day by slashing recess, arts and extracurricular budgets. As parents, we’re replacing “go play outside/have a dance party/fiddle around on the piano” with soccer practice/music lessons/tutoring.

Which brings to mind this study, which found that instruction actually limits spontaneous exploration and discovery. Kids who were shown how to use a novel toy played with it for significantly less time AND found fewer different kinds of actions on the toy than kids who were just given the toy with no further instruction.

This revelation, in addition to recent self-regulation studies that have shown that kids’ executive function—or the ability to control their own emotions and behavior—has diminished since the 1940s, should set off alarm bells in our minds. Why? Because the more structured the play, the more children’s private speech declines. This means that kids aren’t getting a chance to practice the all-important skill of self-regulation/executive function. And executive function is used by adults to surmount the obstacles that we encounter countless times as we work to innovate and invent as adults. (Among a host of other incredibly important skills.) More on these studies can be found here.

If we’re going to help the next generation of kids continue to invent and innovate–not just regurgitate–we need to make sure that as parents and educators we allow opportunities for our kids to experience both structured AND unstructured learning.

Let’s change our collective mantras and our own self-talk from a fearful “what haven’t they learned yet?” to a joyful “what will they think of next?”

#letkidsplay #powerofplay #bringbackrecess

Also posted on Cooperative Catalyst

Necessity PLAY is the Mother of Invention