Friday, July 11, 2014

learning through play

PBS News Hour featured a school in California where the mission is learning through play. It's a concept that Froebel would have agreed with except that most of the play at this new school is through the manipulation of digital devices. The school has received a heavy investment from the computer industry, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and is only offered to a single grade, sixth. They hope to expand the concept with other schools in other areas. The video program can be viewed here.

Otto Salomon had two principles that apply. One was "start with the interests of the child." The second, was begin with the known and proceed to the unknown. In this case, most of the children have some experience with digital devices just as every Swedish child in the 19th century knew how to safely use a knife. Whether they know how to use the digital technology safely and creatively is a question that we might ask. Also, the question remains whether the school will go anywhere with their experiment. What I would recommend is that they proceed into the unknown with their venture by adding woodworking tools and the opportunity for real craftsmanship. There is no need to dump their expensive technologies, but I worry that they set a poor example in that others will think that high technology is a prerequisite for effective learning through play. Learning through play is what children have always done except when constrained in adult centered schooling, and certainly, with standardized testing, and adult contrived standards, schooling is no longer centered on the interests of the child.

Constructive play is nothing new in schooling. Froebel based his system of education on directed play, and Dewey, too, put creative play at the direct center of learning. Dewey railed against the method of education that put the child outside the "center of gravity." He called it "the mechanical massing of children" and chided "its uniformity of method and curriculum." And when you see that we've known how to effectively teach children  for well over a hundred years and still refuse the most effective and joyful method of it, one can feel a rising sense of disgust over the stupidity of American education.

I applaud the new school with its focus on play, even though that play involves technologies most schools can't afford. Learning through play is nothing new, and it will be best able to deliver on its mission if it remembers that, attunes itself with the philosophies of Comenius, Cygnaeus, Froebel, Salomon and Dewey.

In the wood shop, I am busily sanding boxes and they have proceeded rapidly from what you see in the photo above. I will begin applying finish today.

Make, fix and create...

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