Game Designers

beanie houseWhen I taught second grade in the 90s, one of my favorite parts of the curriculum was Friday projects.  We worked hard all week on regular second grade content, then Friday afternoons moved us into another dimension.  Our classroom had a vast supply of paper towel tubes, toilet paper rolls, masking and clear tape, wood, cardboard, nails, hot glue guns, fabric, and scraps of anything you could think of.  It was an open-ended invitation for the imagination.  Children were allowed to keep their projects at school for long periods of time (until they took over the room and we had to dismantle or send them home).  I loved how they constantly added to and played off others’ ideas.  Many years this work spilled over into the summer program and became the main focus of entire weeks.  One of the most memorable was the week devoted to a study of houses.  The beanie babies of that era owned by Seed children ended up with some of the most astonishing habitats you could imagine.

Over the years, despite increasing emphasis placed on standardized testing, the Seed has remained steady in its stance on play.  Yes, we give more attention to standards AND we still give all students time and invitations to express their imaginations.  It’s always encouraging to know we’re not alone in valuing play.  One of our Seed parents sent me the link to an article written by Laura Seargeant Richardson, a writer for a company called Frog Design, a global product and design company.  The article focuses on elements necessary for children to grow up to be “game designers,” not just “game players.”  Richardson cites a 2007 book called Children at Play: An American History by Howard Chudacoff, a professor of History at Brown University.  He describes “a disturbing trend suggesting that play is changing dramatically from a world invented by children to a world prescribed by parents and other adults.”   He adds that “the resourcefulness of children’s culture has eroded, as children have become less skilled at transforming everyday objects into playthings.”  The article lists four components in children’s lives that encourage creative thinking:

•  open environments-child gets to be the author and the medium is open to interpretation
•  flexible tools-materials that allow for expression outside of their normal use
•  modifiable rules-ability to change rules to meet current situations as they arise
•  superpowers-(Richardson’s definition) “the physical and mental skills that we develop to adapt and thrive in a complex world while exploring the creative opportunities made possible by global progress.”

Looking over this list, it appears that most of the items on it are alive and well at Awakening Seed (perhaps that’s one reason we landed on the list of 10 bizarre schools in the country).  As we continue our work of applying the latest standards, we also persevere in offering invitations to children that will expand and inspire their imaginations.  As Richardson says, “Play is our greatest natural resource. In the end, it comes down to playing with our capacity for human potential. Why would we ever want to limit it? In the future, economies won’t just be driven by financial capital, but by play capital as well.”  It’s exciting to think of the possibilities for games of all sorts stirring here at the Seed, ready to burst forth into the world via a a trail of cardboard tubes, clear tape, rocks and a legion of logs yet to be fully explored.

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