The God-Given Gift of Play (Part 4 – Play being productive)

As I get closer and closer to meeting my daughter for the first time in a week or so, give or take, and as I see baby Einstein books coming in the mail, it makes me quite excited to see what Abrielle will be like. What will she look like? What will her personality be like?

And as I am finishing up this little series about play, I am, of course, wondering what playing with her will be like.

Play as a means of teaching/learning

Looking at all of these baby Einstein books have provided a solid reminder…children naturally “play.” You don’t get them to “learn” by getting them to “stop playing and pay attention” or anything…you get them to learn by directing their playing to something educational. This is a “duh” of elementary education. It is noticeable in how math is taught, how spelling is taught, etc.

And as for taekwondo? Master Lyon (my instructor and our school owner) always taught us as instructors, “Teens and adults want to learn karate, kids between 7 and 12 want to do karate, 4 through 6 year olds want to play karate.” Telling a “tiger” (that’s what we call our 4, 5, and 6 year olds) to stand still or stand like a black belt is only so effective. Having a RACE to see who can stand like a black belt first (which means feet together, hands by your sides, standing still, and if your feet aren’t together you can’t win) is far more effective. Tigers learn by games. Races. Mini-competitions for the loudest yell. Strongest punch. Fastest kick. And if the student stands still…they get to play the “high block game” where if I can touch their head with my blue padded stick, I win, but if they can stop me from touching their head, they win.

And they learn. They learn through play.

And as for church?

I don’t remember any messages or sermons from elementary school ages at church. I DO remember adults (not my parents) who wanted me to sit in church so that I would learn. However, the first sermon that my memory can recall was from when I was about 13 or 14. I had sat in church many times at that point…but I do not recall a single sermon before that time.

I DO, however, remember games and stories and pictures. I remember Norm Davis giving us little jawbreaker candies if we answered a question. I remember learning about who David and Goliath was by doing a connect-the-dots paper until it resembled them. I remember matching characters to their counterparts by drawing lines.

I remember the negative taste left in my mouth by adults who demanded that I sit in big church, although I didn’t learn anything in big church (does any child?). I also remember doing fun stuff in Sunday School, with a bunch of other people my age whom I got to know over the years. I don’t remember a thing about sermons. I learned about Jesus, God, Adam, Eve, David, Goliath, King Saul, Jonathan, Peter, Paul, Abraham, Isaac, & Jacob, all from Sunday School games & crafts.

As for school?

At my prime, I was typing 80 WPM. I am now consistently at 60 WPM. Why? Because of that driving game that was part of Mavis Beacon teaches typing. I learned a bunch of random facts from Jeopardy for the NES. I learned about different types of fighter jets from Air Combat for the Playstation.

Even though we didn’t really do division until third or fourth grade, I could do division in Kindergarten. And it’s not because of any inborn ability…I had a “speak-n-math” that I played with. As well as a “speak-n-spell” that I used to learn to spell tough words.

The point: If the instinct and desire to play is ENCOURAGED and FED, maybe we can learn more, faster?

Not just for kids, but for adults, too. Assassin’s Creed piqued my interest in Pope Alexander VI (Rodrigo Borgia), leading me to Wikipedia. Same story goes for the history of Russia and Russian leaders. Video games piqued my interested and led me to Wikipedia. And how many people learned about WWII from the first three Call of Duty games?

If play can be utilized, maybe more can happen?

The God-Given Gift of Play (Part 2 – The attack)

Some people like children. Some people don’t.

I have noticed a few tendencies that I wanted to share, and see if anyone else has noticed these same tendencies?

1. Adults who are “pretentious,” who hold themselves and others to many, many unwritten social rules, often do not like children because children are not aware of these rules.

For example, a child would ask “Mommy, why is that lady SO BIG?” An adult would never ask that, because they know the unwritten social rule: Never comment on a woman’s weight.

2. Some adults who do not like children because children are loud, and therefore, annoying.

Children have not really developed as much of an objective viewpoint as a common adult has developed. Thus, children are usually not thinking “I wonder if mom is annoyed that I’ve asked the same question 5 times in a row?” In the same way, they are certainly not thinking about whether their play is disruptive or annoying or not. They are simply doing what they do.

3. Some adults do not like children because they are consumers and not producers.

And I think this is a primary reason why many adults try to squelch play…not so much in younger children, but in the teenage years. Play does not produce, and therefore it is a “useless” behavior. Or is it?

Balance is required

I understand that anyone will gravitate towards play rather than towards work. Learning to work when you really want to play is part of becoming an adult. Thus, it would make sense that adults will squelch play.

However, society is getting competitive. Or…let me state that differently. The institutions (school, church, family, work, etc.) within society are getting more competitive. In the past, many institutions and activities viewed themselves as pieces of the whole. Teachers and parents worked together. Sports and academics never had to compete…they worked together.

But as each individual institution became more competitive, striving to be better than others, they upped their requirements. Schools started giving out 3 hours of homework a night instead of one hour of homework a night. Sports started demanding more and more time for practice.

Churches started to plan youth group, Sunday school, bible study, and discipleship groups. Often, many of the people leading these institutions forget that whenever they add hours to their requirements, they must take away hours from something else.

And as a teenager is learning to choose what is important and budget their time, where does “play” fit into all of this?

…I don’t have an answer to that question. What’s your answer? Is it important enough to budget that time? Why?

The God-Given Gift of Play (part 1)

We take a break from the apologetics blog for this important announcement. It has been on my mind, so I NEEDED to share it.

If you’ve been reading my blog for any amount of time, you have perhaps noticed that I have a special interest in teenagers. For the most part, I emphasize the “adult-ness” of the teenager. But for this post, I get to analyze the “child-ness” of the teenager, and why it is pretty awesome. But first…a story that has nothing to do with teenagers.

The other day, my sister Tara came over and stopped by our apartment to drop some baby stuff off for Abrielle (my daughter, due to be born July 17th). She brought her son, my nephew, Kellen. Kellen is now 2 ½ years old. So, what was intended to be a quick drop-off became us hanging out for a couple hours because Kellen and I found some toys that were going to belong to Abrielle. Kellen played with a pop-up animal toy for a while, and then we all went for a walk.

In fact, I’ve gotten to watch Kellen play for a few years now. At several random points, Kellen will say “Uncle Carson, you come over and play basketball?” And having been over, I have learned that if you play basketball with Kellen, he will not let you leave. (He might not even play basketball. He might play with the other toys in his room, but YOU have to continue playing basketball. There is no escape.)

It is interesting to watch…play is the HIGHEST PRIORITY in Kellen’s life. It is how he learns. It is how he socializes. I am becoming more and more convinced that it is what communicates to him that he is valued, far more than words do at this stage.

And as I think back to my own childhood…when I was 6, what in the world could POSSIBLY BE more important than going outside, finding a stick, and then pretending that it was a sword?

Play is an interesting social phenomenon

It is quite interesting that ALL babies and children play, often in the same ways. It is also interesting how society reacts to it.

ALL babies, and young children, play with dolls. For boys, however, we call the dolls “action figures” so that we do not feel like they are girly. But pretending is a critically important part of play.

And this happens in every different society. There is no society where children do not play. There is no society where children do not pretend. Whether they are pretending to be adults or to have a family or to be warriors or to be workers or to drive cars, children pretend.

And this leads to my teenage story. My wife made an observation about teenagers the other day, one that really made me think. One that I SHOULD have figured out, but she was the one who nailed it on the head. We were watching the unending energy level of teenagers and how they constantly ran around at the church and were always laughing or joking or doing something.

Sarah’s observation was this: “I often think of teenagers as new adults…learning how to be adults. But it’s easy for me to forget that teenagers are part adult, but still part children. They are running around because they are playing.”

Playing. Teenagers, who again are weird adult/child hybrids, are simply letting their “child” side show. They are playing. They are having fun, because having fun is one of the highest priorities they have.

Is this bad? I am convinced that this is not bad. But I am also convinced that a lot of society treats this as though it was bad, so in order to transition these teenagers from child-stage to adult-stage, many adults squelch their “playing” side.

I think this is an incredibly huge mistake. Why do I think that? How do adults “squelch” that playful side? That is coming soon.