It’s More Than Jigsaw-puzzling

I borrowed the idea for my title from the Genius of Play organization. When you have a moment, check out their website. The Genius of Play’s mission is to provide families with the information and inspiration they need to make play an important part of their child’s day. Their website is filled with great information for parents, teachers, caregivers, and anyone interested in play.

I had the pleasure of working with the Genius of Play when they sponsored a panel at the Smithsonian Institute. I wrote a bit about it here. I plan to revisit that night, but for now I just mention my definition of play:

Play is a fun and powerful way of interacting with the world — with people, things, thoughts, and ideas. The fun of play is a large part of its power. When we play we laugh, we let go of worry, we fret less, and we breathe more.  This helps our brains — regardless of our ages or tasks — be more open and able to explore possibilities, entertain new ideas, and learn. When we play we are so much more willing to take risks — and even when we fail, we discover that failure isn’t the end, instead it’s the opportunity to begin the game again — stronger and smarter!

I was reminded of that definition today as I began a new jigsaw puzzle. While sorting pieces, I laughed out loud as I recalled another thing I said about play that evening. Play allows us to do things over and over again in joy. Often these are tasks that, done outside of play, might be devoid of joy, and sometimes so awful we’d just as soon stick a pencil in our eye! Oh my!!!

Back to the more about jigsaw-puzzling-play. I noticed a ton of more today, but I’m sure there is even more more that I’ve not yet discovered.

I begin my jigsaw-puzzling with a huge first sort usually oriented towards the fact that I have 6 sorting bins and the two parts of the puzzle box. I don’t look for pieces that go together, but happily accept the connections that show themselves without my help. I separate the edge pieces, and then sort the middle ones by color. My sorting becomes more refined as I construct the puzzle.

I’ve always seen the sorting as a connection to mathematics. After all, I’m looking for and finding patterns and colors; I’m rotating and orienting pieces; and I’m constantly considering spatial information and problems. But today I noticed the connection to literacy — writing, revising, spelling, reading, main ideas, noticing, thinking, wondering, joy and awe.

The scrap copy of a writing piece, or even the first attempt at spelling a word is a lot like my first sort. As writers or puzzlers, we put our pieces where they seem to belong.

Ever time I work a puzzle, I make mistakes. I’m convinced a piece is lost. I sort incorrectly. I find a piece containing something I hadn’t noticed before. I lose a piece under my sorting bins.

What to do? Fret? Berate myself? Decide I’m really bad at puzzling? Give up? No! The playful nature of puzzling helps me react with patience, amazement, and joy. I am continually surprised at what my eyes and brain are able to perceive as I become more familiar with the puzzle. I begin to see gradients of colors I hadn’t noticed before. I find pieces I was convinced were missing the day before.

Frequently, I relook at what I have, rethink, and make some tweaks. Today I was able to make a powerful change when I realized I didn’t have to put green, brown, and red together because I actually have a red bin that I had overlooked. So simple, so silly, and yet, so valuable. Isn’t this like what happens as we, or our students, revise and edit our writing?

As I sort, I make a plethora of decisions. At first I might make my decisions by which color is most prominent. Does this piece have more red or more yellow? As I examine more and more pieces, I begin to get a better feeling for the puzzle. Then, I start to wonder what is most important. What might be a really important detail as I continue to construct the puzzle? Might those blue lines be helpful? I wonder if that small area of green will be a key bit of information to help me place that piece? Should I keep all the pieces with circles in the same space?

This thought process is very similar to the thinking that goes into understanding a story. I notice some things as I begin to read. Then, as I read more, I learn more, interact more, wonder more. What’s the main idea? Who’s the main character? Is she kind or does she just seem like she’s kind? Is my understanding that she is mostly brave causing me to miss that one pivotal and powerful moment of weakness? What does that one fact (one puzzle piece) remind me of? Often I don’t just move forward in the text — or the puzzle – sometimes I retrace my thinking and doing. A new understanding or noticing makes me recall a detail, thought, idea — puzzle piece — that I saw eons ago, and had, until this very moment, not realized I needed, so, back I go.

I chuckled as I took photos to share on this post. How difficult is it to distinguish a straight edged piece from a piece with no straight edges? Clearly, quite difficult! I noticed I had an edge piece in the red bin, then when I went to photograph it, I noticed another! Then upon closer investigations I noticed that the two edge pieces looked like they might fit together. They did! I felt a bit of glee at this unexpected gift.

That experience made me think about my K girls working on spelling words, or forming their letters correctly. They place and form the letters with the information and understanding they currently possess. Things that may seem obvious to us, or will become obvious to them later on, are now overlooked. As they become more familiar with the puzzle pieces — the letters themselves as well as the many sounds they make — they notice new, more accurate and helpful ways to put them together. It’d be fantabulous if I could help them to react to their new realizations – not as weaknesses or moments for embarrassment — but instead as gifts and moments for awe at the remarkableness of their big beautiful brains!

There is an abundance of opportunity in jigsaw-puzzling. The possibilities for joy, learning, and conversation abound. Here are some conversation starters:


How might we begin?
Wow, I never thought of that. Tell me more.
That’s very interesting, how did you make that decision?
What are you thinking?
Wow! Did you see that?
You changed your mind? Awesome. I’d love to know why.
How did you find that piece so quickly? I’ve been looking forever!
Where do you think I should sort this piece?
I wonder if the red color, or the white circle is more important? What do you think? Hmmm, why do you think that?
Gosh, did you notice all these colors in the mountain? At first it looked black to me, now it seems filled with colors. What colors do you see?
I wonder why I didn’t see all the colors at first.
Oh that’s awesome.
So amazing that we couldn’t figure that out for days, and now you/we did!
Your big beautiful brain is fantabulous!
Thanks.
I love puzzling with you.

Play — of all kinds — is a powerful, profound, and fun tool for learning. Let’s be brave, open, and creative. Let’s discover the more, and use it.

Be The Revolution!

I just read the Genius of Play’s report on “Fostering innovation and Creativity through Play,” cohosted with the Smithsonian Lemelson Center at the National Museum of American History, April 25, 2018.

I love the questions, ideas, hopes, and dreams they express in their event press release, and their event report.

Their plan was to “explore how play serves as a catalyst for creativity and innovation.” What a great plan! Remarkably, they didn’t just explore on their own, for their own information. They invited experts (including me!)  to collaborate with them, and hosted a free event to share our thoughts. They even extended invitations to members of Congress, congressional staff, and staff at the Department of Education.

If you get a chance, read the report  and check out the Genius of Play website. Until then, I hope you are inspired by our definitions of play, and the conclusion to the Genius of Play report.

“What is play?”

“Play is joy – doing things that you love to do. And I think play changes over the periods of your lifetime. I also would say for young children, play is the work in how they live their lives.” (Jeri Robinson, Boston Children’s Museum)

“If it makes you happy … It can’t be anything but play.” (James McLurkin, Google)

“Play is a way of interacting with the world that is both fun and powerful. What makes play powerful is it allows our brains to be open and to explore possibility, entertain new ideas, learn and take risks, and learn that failing isn’t the end, but it’s really the beginning to start a new game, stronger and smarter.” (Molly James, Kent Place School)

“Play is anything that we see as open-ended and unconstrained in the hands of a child. And the tools can be anything: they could be toys; they could be robots; they could be books; they could be nothing; they could be out in the garden, but that’s all play.” (Vikas Gupta, Wonder Workshop)

Genius of Play Report Conclusion:

“The connection between play and invention is real but in order to see a correlation, children need to be allowed to flex their creativity through play. By bringing more play to the school curriculum, giving parents the confidence to play with their children, and helping our society understand and value the benefits of play, we can help children develop the qualities they need to become the next generation of inventors.”

Good stuff, right? It was an incredible evening, and the ability to reflect a bit more about it through the report is pretty awesome.

I’m not sure if the members of Congress, congressional staff, or staff at the Department of Education attended. At first that bothered me. But, now, not so much, because I think the most important people made it to the event.

Parents, educators, toy inventors, and others invested in creativity, innovation, and learning, filled the room. We are the people in the classrooms, museums, after school programs, and homes. In some ways it’s most important for us to hear the ideas, read the reports, and believe in the power and purpose of play and creativity in learning and innovation.

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I read a recent Ron Clark tweet which stated “As we start a new school year, I hope every teacher will take a moment to reimagine what education can and should be for every child. Be magical! Make possibilities a reality! #betherevolution”

I agree, let’s be the revolution our kids, and our world, need and deserve!  Let’s make play, creativity, joy, inventiveness, and innovation possible. We can do it. We can make them a reality in our learning spaces. We can give our students the opportunity to “flex their creativity in play.” We can help others experience and understand the value of play — for all of us.

Let’s stand in our power. Let’s be the magical creatures we are. Let’s be the revolution!

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A link to the report can be found on the Genius of Play website, along with a ton of great information and resources. Or, if you prefer, you can download a pdf of the report – Raising a Generation of Inventors: How Play Fosters Creativity and Innovative Thinking in Children.   

 

Play is Fun and Powerful

The Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, and the Toy Association  collaborated to host a Genius of Play event at the Smithsonian on April 25th. I had the distinct joy of being asked to be one of the panelists! Of course, I accepted.

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The panelists included:

Vikas Gupta — Co-founder and CEO of Wonder Workshop, and maker of the award-winning Dash, Dot and Cue robots. James McLurkin —  Inventor and Senior Hardware Engineer at Google. Jeri Robinson — Vice President of Early Childhood Initiatives at the Boston Children’s Museum. And, Me, Molly James — Creativity Researcher, and Kindergarten Teacher at Kent Place School.

Our conversation on the panel centered on play and its place in learning and schools, creativity, and innovation.

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Have you ever considered how you would define play?

I am always thinking about play and creativity, but for the weeks preceding the panel, I did so with increased attention. I observed my students, and noticed all the remarkable insights, skills, discoveries, and joys they experienced as they played. I read articles, thought, and chatted with fellow creatives.

At times, as if it were to keep my head from exploding, I would have to write. I would write streams of consciousness, questions, wonderings, ideas, and things to look up. With those thoughts safely recorded in my notebook, my brain seemed free for new ideas and questions. This continued for many cycles.. Then, on the train to DC, and at breakfast the morning of the event, several things became crystal clear.

As I rode the train, I wondered how I would succinctly express my ideas. I could talk about play and creativity forever, but how could I do it as part of a panel, in a few sound bites? I decided to see what the dictionary had to say about  play.

I was shocked. I hadn’t read the definitions previously because I didn’t want to risk plagiarizing any of their ideas. I wanted my definition to be my own — from my own experience and research as an educator, and a person who plays. After reading the definitions, I realized there was no chance I’d be stealing their words.

The definitions I found were remarkably different from mine. They made play sound frivolous, purposeless, and unimportant. Nothing was further from what I believe to be the truth.

With these definitions as the way play is explained and understood, it’s no wonder it’s sometimes difficult to convince others of the significance of play in life, learning, creativity, and innovation. I would LOVE the dictionaries to have a definition of play that more correctly explains its essence, and highlights its importance. I wonder how one goes about getting a definition in the dictionary changed?

While perhaps not short enough for an entry in Merriam Webster, or dictionary.com, here is what I consider a much more accurate and appropriate definition of play.

Play is a fun and powerful way of interacting with the world — with people, things, thoughts, and ideas. The fun of play is a large part of its power. When we play we laugh, we let go of worry, we fret less, and we breathe more.  This helps our brains — regardless of our ages or tasks — be more open and able to explore possibilities, entertain new ideas, and learn. When we play we are so much more willing to take risks — and even when we fail, we discover that failure isn’t the end, instead it’s the opportunity to begin the game again — stronger and smarter!

I was not alone in that understanding. All the panelists shared experiences and beliefs in the importance and power of play for all ages — at home, work, and school. It was great to hear such a unified message from a panel of people with very different backgrounds and occupations.

There were so many other great thoughts and ideas presented and discussed about the importance of play. When the video is posted on the Smithsonian page I will blog again and link to it.

The whole event  — arriving early and chatting with Jeri; meeting Monica, James, and Vikas; laughing and sharing our hopes to “not sound like idiots”; the receptions; and the panel itself — was spectacular. There was a ton of brilliance, thinking, collaboration, humility, awesomeness, laughter, honesty, passion, and playfulness on that stage.

Being part of this panel for the  Innovative Lives Series helped me to more fully embrace my expertise and fantabulousness! I presented with the big boys and girls, and in the process, I discovered, I am one of them!

 




Post script:

May 2014 I earned my MA Creative Thinking. A little over a year later, I had this blog, and a published paper. Four years later, an invitation to the Smithsonian.

Wow!

Gotta give a huge shout out to Karl K. Jeffries and his program at UCLan!  You, Karl, are a spectacular mentor, and creative thinker. And, a huge thank you to the many others who walk this creative, playful, fantabulous journey with me. I’m incredibly grateful!