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 3 – Programmed inhibitions and their backfire)

A childlike outlook…and how we program it out of them

This whole “play” series is pointing to something I can’t quite put my finger on…let me try to explain it as best as I can. There is something in kids that often isn’t in adults. Something good in kids that adults should have, but they don’t. “Play” is simply one manifestation of it. Call it an energy, or a perspective, or whatever. I can’t put my finger on it.

The problem is that whatever this thing is, we accidentally kill it as they grow older. Children “play” without worry…adults worry, and we teach them to worry. Children have hopes and dreams…adults teach them to be very conservative with these dreams, and we chuckle and laugh at motivational sayings that say otherwise.

Little girls smile and laugh whenever they feel like smiling and laughing. But you and I both know…boys are idiots. So a girl smiles and laughs because she is having fun. The boy starts to think that she likes him when she doesn’t. He starts following her, and then he gets mad at her when she says that she doesn’t like him in this way. Somewhere in that transition from “child” to “adult,” what used to be carefree laughter is replaced by worry about what others will think. Yup. “Laughter” replaced by “worry” is part of growing up. And it gets even better when the girl who smiles and laughs a lot is accused by friends and family of being a “flirt.”

And anybody who has ever worked with youth at church or school knows that when a bunch of teenage guys get together, then something, somewhere is going to get broken. Guys laugh, roughhouse, and shove each other around. Adults, knowing that when guys are laughing and roughhousing is when things and people get broken, negatively respond to laughter.

Neither one of these are really bad things…girls need to be conscious of what messages they are sending, and guys need to be careful and considerate of people’s stuff. But when we reinforce inhibitions that stop us from showing who we really are, it only takes so long until we actually CAN’T even be ourselves around others.

 

And that leads to this phenomenon…virtually every culture in history has used mind-altering substances (some socially acceptable, some socially unacceptable) at parties or celebrations. The most commonly known one is alcohol, of course.

Now, on the topic of alcohol, let me tell you exactly where I’m coming from. I believe that alcohol itself is not biblically forbidden. Drunkenness is biblically forbidden. I have heard that strong drink is forbidden in the Old Testament, although I do not remember where. However, can Christians have alcohol? Sure.

As for me, personally, I feel it is wisest for me to be a total abstainer. I go with the “not-a-drop” policy for myself, just because I want to and I feel it is smart. However, I do not believe it is profitable or God-ordained to throw this standard at others.

But back to the matter at hand…virtually every culture in history has felt as though they need mind-altering substances (like alcohol) in order to have a party. Why is that? Because alcohol “lowers your inhibitions.” Helps you “let your hair down.”

Add alcohol to a party, and suddenly, the girl who never smiled for fear of sending off the wrong signals starts to smile and have fun again. The guys egg each other on, and everybody starts to laugh again.

However…we all know of many, many stories to where this all goes too far. The girl who didn’t smile did smile…and flirted, and woke up at some guy’s apartment ashamed of what she did last night, afraid of being pregnant. The guys did egg each other on for fun’s sake…until a fight erupted. Somebody didn’t make it home because they drove drunk, crashed into another car, and died, taking an unrelated woman and her baby girl with them. Alcohol itself is not bad, but we ALL know stories about it going too far.

 

What I found interesting, however, was that I never had any desire to drink alcohol. At all. My reason? I was told that what made it fun was losing just a little bit of control. But for me, I never want to lose control. At all.

But someone else would then tell me that the reason that alcohol is fun is because it “helps you lower your inhibitions.” This is where two things come in play for me. 1) The people watcher/sociology nerd side of me. I get to analyze my inhibitions, analyze social rules, and then break them. The average person couldn’t bring themselves to stand on a table in public, or yell things, or talk to strangers. I didn’t need alcohol to lower my inhibitions. I could lower them myself. 2) The taekwondo student in me. It has come to my attention that martial arts people are weird. I don’t really know how it works…but I have found that something about learning martial arts makes you more confident, thus making you care a little less or a lot less about what other people think. Here’s an example…my taekwondo friends were the ones who, our wedding reception, went to all the different tables and collected the goldfish (in the center thing as a decoration) to take them to their own table.

So alcohol can be used to lower one’s inhibitions…but to this I ask, how did those inhibitions get there in the first place?

 

All of this is a big long post to give you this hypothesis: If we can reinforce the desire to play in adults, rather than suppressing it, then the negative side-effects of alcohol abuse will lessen as the perceived “need” for alcohol lessens.

 

Recap on my position: Again, here is my position on alcohol.

Me, personally: Not a drop. Just my thing for me…not throwing that at anybody else.

Biblical stance: Drunkenness is forbidden, but not moderate use of alcohol.

Beyond that…we should obey the laws of the state and the country. I am not against adults drinking…I am against adults drinking too much and I am against underage drinkers. As Christians, we should obey the government and its laws unless they are in direct contradiction to a divine command. Thus, people under 21 shouldn’t drink, and NO ONE should drink and drive.

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?