I was reviewing an Op-Ed piece written in the New York Times by Susan Engel, a senior lecturer in psychology and the director of the teaching program at Williams College, almost two years ago. I wrote about it in this blog at the time: http://bit.ly/14q37VV You can find the link to Engel's essay there too.
Toward the end of her essay Engel mentions the importance of play. She writes: “During the school day, there should be extended time for play. Research has shown unequivocally that children learn best when they are interested in the material or activity they are learning. Play — from building contraptions to enacting stories to inventing games — can allow children to satisfy their curiosity about the things that interest them in their own way. It can also help them acquire higher-order thinking skills, like generating testable hypotheses, imagining situations from someone else’s perspective and thinking of alternate solutions.
“A classroom like this would provide lots of time for children to learn to collaborate with one another, a skill easily as important as math or reading. It takes time and guidance to learn how to get along, to listen to one another and to cooperate. These skills cannot be picked up casually at the corners of the day.”
Engel wrote about what children need to know, or need to learn in elementary school. I’ve recently been reading John Medina’s book, Brain Rules. He talks about his teaching at the college level. His mother talked about seeing a movie showing how Strasbourg Geese were force-fed. It reminded me that I had referred to those same poor geese when I commented on Engel’s essay. “It points us away from stuffing our children like Strasbourg geese for test success, and toward an education that values listening, collaborating, following their curiosity, and creating things…”
Medina writes: “My mother would often related this story to me when she talked about being a good or bad teacher. ‘Most teachers overstuff their students,’ she would exclaim, ‘like those farmers in that awful movie!’ When I went to college I soon discovered what she meant. And now that I am a professor who has worked closely with the business community, I can see the habit close up. The most common communication mistakes? Relating too much information, with not enough time devoted to connecting the dots. Lots of force feeding, very little digestion. This does nothing for the nourishment of the listeners, whose learning is often sacrificed in the name of expediency.”
I believe that the digestive process is play. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. College students, adults, third graders, learners all along the spectrum of life learning need play: stories, the invention of games, the opportunity to collaborate, practice, sit back to dream and imagine, to make connections between new ideas and old information, to fashion something from the information they’ve been given, to build connections that go beyond short term recall.
We need to worry as much about how we consume information, and for what purpose, during the course of our lives, as we do about how much we consume meat, soda, and corn.