Work, and Play

By Kristin Sanderson

October 9, 2013

Soft and enveloping…needs legs to function…often shaped like an “L”…touches the parts of a body that can be smelly…can be used as verbs…

Those were some of the responses to the question that opened our staff meeting yesterday: “How is a chair like a sock?”  The topic was play/work for students at Miquon and we decided to do some exercises in divergent thinking to play a little ourselves and try to open our minds a bit.   I wrote three answers in the first minute and then got a little stuck – when a fourth idea hit me (they both need legs!) I felt my creative depths had been plumbed.   Diane Webber, our 5th Grade teacher, who was leading the meeting, said it can take concentrated effort and perseverance to break through to a place where the ideas really start to flow.  (“You mean it takes work?” I thought.)  And, indeed, several of our teachers didn’t give up and produced many more commonalities that were fun and clever and absolutely unique.

Admittedly, I am competitive by nature and with no chance of “winning” this game, my engagement might have flagged…but I am also pretty sure my schooling and family trained me to stop at the “right answer.”  And, while these kind of exercises may be a challenge for me, we see this easy improvisation, perseverance and fluidity in children’s play and conversation all the time.  Children come hard-wired with imagination and creativity.  I stopped up at the Nursery playground the other day and watched a girl dig intently and convincingly for a “sparkly planet” in the sandbox.  In talking with Anne Brady about this year’s theme of “Abstraction” in the art room, she mentioned to me that elementary age children generally have a good handle on abstraction.  However, starting around age 9 or 10, they become fixed on the goal of representation.  Anne’s hope is to “hold that place” of abstraction for them, so it is not lost as they make necessary developmental transitions.  She is right to make that emphasis and try to preserve the best of both perspectives.  So much of what is present and celebrated in childhood is now valued in the workplace.  Daniel Pink identified “the six essential abilities” needed for the 21st century in his bestselling book A Whole New Mind.  He believes they are Design, Symphony, Story, Empathy, Play and Meaning – which could be new labels for much of our curriculum at Miquon.

We finished the staff meeting with another exercise taken from this recent Wall Street Journal article on play in the workplace.  If you had 100 time tokens to spend per week and had to invest them among 1. work, 2. play, and 3. work that feels like play – what would the allocation look like?  We thought of ourselves and we thought of the students in our school.  At the end of the meeting, we observed that, for both adults and children, having all three seemed desirable, and that self-generated work and play can be indistinguishable.  I suggested at Back to School Night that the world would be a better place if more of us felt like our work was play.  At Miquon, we are trying to graduate students who are very much in touch with that place of confluence and know better than I did yesterday that it sometimes takes persistence to reach it.

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