Saturday, March 9, 2013

Play and Learning

This post over on Boing Boing makes a nice follow-up to my recent post on play. The Boing Boing post has a blurb and a brief excerpt from a book called  Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life by Peter Gray.

Here's a bit of the book cover blurb:

Our children spend their days being passively instructed, and made to sit still and take tests -- often against their will. We call this imprisonment schooling, yet wonder why kids become bored and misbehave. Even outside of school children today seldom play and explore without adult supervision, and are afforded few opportunities to control their own lives. The result: anxious, unfocused children who see schooling—and life—as a series of hoops to struggle through.

And here are a couple of snips from the book's introduction:

Children come into the world burning to learn and genetically programmed with extraordinary capacities for learning. They are little learning machines. Within their first four years or so they absorb an unfathomable amount of information and skills without any instruction. They learn to walk, run, jump, and climb. They learn to understand and speak the language of the culture into which they are born, and with that they learn to assert their will, argue, amuse, annoy, befriend, and ask questions. They acquire an incredible amount of knowledge about the physical and social world around them. All of this is driven by their inborn instincts and drives, their innate playfulness and curiosity. Nature does not turn off this enormous desire and capacity to learn when children turn five or six. We turn it off with our coercive system of schooling. The biggest, most enduring lesson of school is that learning is work, to be avoided when possible. . . . . 

. . . . .Such work led me to understand how children's strong drives to play and explore serve the function of education, not only in hunter gatherer cultures but in our culture as well. It led to new insights concerning the environmental conditions that optimize children's abilities to educate themselves through their own playful means. It led me to see how, if we had the will, we could free children from coercive schooling and provide learning centers that would maximize their ability to educate themselves without depriving them of the rightful joys of childhood.

There's a certain all or nothing feeling to this, but I do think he's got a point. Many years ago I saw where Agatha Christie said, I think in her autobiography, how she thought it was criminal locking children up in schools. While I was extremely fortunate in my schooling (and never felt imprisoned), it's always been obvious to me that one size (method) doesn't suit everyone and I could see what she was talking about.

It's another way of looking at music education vs. music therapy. Different approaches are going to work with different people - neither will be right for everyone all the time.

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