What is fuelling the shift towards playfulness?
I have to be honest – I thought that only adults would understand this. But I was wrong.
If you’re not into kids games and videos, try flipping through the television channel at around 10:30pm. I’m talking about what you might call “mainstream programming”: Channel 4, MTV, Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network. It doesn’t feel like there’s anything good on any of these channels or websites.
I know – it is tempting to blame it on children’s love of junk food and soft drinks, or that they are in a bad place in life. But it is also true that there is a fundamental shift happening right now where play is being seen as an integral part of every one of our lives. And for good reason: it’s responsible for many lifelong skills and behaviours that have real tangible benefits.
Take my son, for example. He’s in Year 5 and is an excellent student. But many of his friends – who seem to find joy playing most hours of the day – are five years his senior. Though he likes to play football and football cards in his free time, do you know what most of his friends are doing with their lives? Some of them are spending endless hours talking online, speaking on phones and social media, checking “what’s going on” all the time, texting, playing games, or talking about things they do not know the context of – yet?
Yet, when we were teaching my son about music, or solving his problem-solving homework, we were talking about real people and real contexts. Games have become a huge component of his educational life. Now, he understands the context of music – the melody and timing of the music – and he’s learning some theory and function and how these properties can be applied to different types of music. And, he learns about music appreciation. But the subtle difference he makes is how he processes the way music is being taught. When we are learning a musical piece, he is looking for the meaning of the music. When he played it with us, we were explaining how the music worked: “bouncing notes, harmonics.” Or “the rhythm is good” (clear, but not sledgehammer). In school, a music teacher explains the context. But when he plays it in front of us, our son listens for that lesson. Not only is he enjoying the music, but he’s becoming interested in all the context too.
He’s also a real musician. This is not just because we play him a song on the piano. We rehearse together. We practise scales and moods. Then, he takes it apart and layers things together so that he can hear the arrangement. He reads what I’m writing on the page and then he changes it as he writes it on the keyboard. He’s playing the piece of music with me and then he plays it himself. Of course, the music he plays is of a slightly different tempo and rhythm than we are used to in school, but all of this comes from learning the context: the rhythm and the arrangement.
So, what does this mean for us? In a direct and concrete way, it means that the way we teach our children will change. In just a few short years, the way our children learn will be different too. It is no longer enough to teach them about literacy, but they will also be taught about morphology, rhythm, melody, melody management, secondary phase work. All of this will change the way they study and study for exams and to help develop their knowledge of concepts and concept-based thinking. We will be teaching them how to approach learning. Now, I realise that many parents want to shield their children from the world of technology. But for me, the alternative is to re-evaluate the sort of content we are offering. It might be that we are not providing them with enough relevant context for them to make this new knowledge accessible, real and relevant to them. And that is a shame.
We are, after all, all of us learning to become conscious learners. We are all becoming mindful of our own lives, and we all have to rely on our own capacities to create experiences that will be meaningful for us. So, please, think about how you are teaching your children – and think about how they are learning.
This video is part of a larger blog which explores education and technology.