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!

 

 

 

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When the Smithsonian Invites …

You say “GET OUT OF TOWN!!” Then, you accept!

I have been meaning to blog about this for quite some time, but as I began to investigate the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation  I kept finding new things that made me go “WOW!” and kept me from blogging.

If you’ve never given their website a look, you really should. They’ve got some awesome thinking and resources.

Look at some of the things they believe, and attempt to live:

“In Spark!Lab, we believe everyone is inventive, and hope that our visitors continue to create and innovate long after they’ve outgrown us.”

I LOVE this. Even though I’ve read it several times, it still makes me shake my head. That’s exactly what I think and hope about my Kindergartners. They’re all creative, inventive, and fantabulous! My hope and intent is that they experience, learn, embrace, and live those truths, with me, and long after they’ve left me!

Another post said “Lemelson team members pride ourselves on ‘living the mission’ as creative problem solvers.” They tell the story of  trying to rescue a lost  phone, and document the process at the same time.

I laughed out loud as I read this story. This is my life as a Kindergarten teacher. Always trying to work with my girls to figure out ways to make things possible — all the while doing my best to snap photos.

And, as I think about it, this is my Kindergartners life too! They are living the mission as creative problem solvers as well! The other day I discovered two girls — bottoms up in the air, faces on the ground, arms reaching under a block cabinet — all the while talking furiously with one another. What was going on, you ask?

Someone had washed a yogurt container, and when they placed it in the ‘use for making’ basket, the container fell behind the cabinet.  The girls could squeeze their arms under the cabinet, but they couldn’t reach the bottle. The flurry of conversation was about the blocks and other items they were trying out as tools to retrieve the container.

To add to their challenge, our classroom has art projects taped to the floor and the edge of the closest art project is about 18 inches from the edge of the block cabinet.

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The block cabinet is on wheels, and a visiting teacher volunteered to move it. The girls rejected this simple solution because they didn’t want to risk harming the art project. It was fantabulous to watch their intentness, inventiveness, and collaboration as they worked to retrieve the container.

Then there is the Lemelson Center strategic plan .

(This is just a small portion of their plan. I’ve put their thoughts in bullets form to make them easier to discuss here.)

  • Value creativity and embrace the potential rewards of risk-taking.
  • Inform and delight audiences and convey the enthusiasm and joy that are integral to the invention process
  • Encourage visitors to participate and see themselves as inventive
  • Push the limits of exhibition design to advance visitors’ curiosity and active learning
  • Our work has the potential to inspire millions of Americans and billions of people worldwide to view themselves as having inventive capacity and to build the skills and confidence needed to overcome barriers to innovation.

At the risk of repeating myself, I love these ideas, and they are a large part of my strategic plan as well. Perhaps it seems odd that a Kindergarten teacher would have some of the same strategic plans, hopes, visions, dreams, and goals, as the center of a major organization. But, if you think about it, it makes perfect sense, and seems to me, should be true of every educator.

Educators do remarkable work, with remarkable people — colleagues, admins, parents, and students. These constituents have limitless potential for imagining, thinking, creating, making, and impacting the world for good. Our work — informed and driven by our plans, hopes, visions and dreams — holds the possibility for profound and far-reaching impact. What we do influences those we  interact with each day. This in turn influences every individual and problem they encounter, now, and in the future.

I’d love to tweak their ideas — making them more mine — and create a canvas of some sort for my learning space.

  • Value creativity.
  • Welcome cognitive and creative risk-taking.
  • Be open to possibility.
  • Teach for delight.
  • Nothing without enthusiasm and joy.
  • Embrace and encourage curiosity.
  • Enable active learning.
  • Live the profoundness inherent in teaching and learning.
  • Believe in the incredible power and potential of my learners.

If I do actually make a canvas, I’ll be sure to share. Until then be inspired, and embrace the profound awesomeness that is you, your work, and those around you!