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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Einstein, China, and The Value of Play in Your Child's Education: Our Greatest Commodity

Einstein: Albert Einstein, the brilliant physicist had a prolific imagination. He attributed the development of the theory of relativity to his ability to think like a child. He never lost that quality. In Howard Gardner's fascinating book Creating Minds: An Anatomy of Creativity Seen Through the Lives of Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, Eliot, Graham, and Gandhi, when asked how did it come to pass that he was the one to develop the theory, Einstein recounts
 "The reason, I think, is that a normal adult never stops to think about problems of space and time. These are things which he has thought of as a child. But my intellectual development was retarded, as a result of which I began to wonder about space and time only when I had already grown up. Naturally I could go deeper into the problem than a child with normal abilities" China: If you are an educator or have been in the last ten years, then you have most likely had delegations from the Chinese Ministry of Education visit your district, or you have traveled there. You also have probably heard or read of the great concern for American public education and its demise amongst countries like Finland and Singapore. Although there is some truth to those concerns, they are for the most part misrepresented and twisted. In my opinion, and that of other researchers and educators, the biggest problem in this country is the economic inequity between the rich and poor. There is no problem with education that doesn't derive from that attribute. We don't need to fix our schools as much as we need to fix our communities and the distribution of wealth. The famous educational philosopher John Dewey stated that "schools are a direct reflection of our communities". But, that topic is for another article. Back to China. One question that many of the Asian delegates repeatedly asked their American counterparts is how can they get their students to be as innovative and creative as American children. One of the inherent qualities and blessings of American culture is time to play, especially in childhood. MIT professor and speaker Scot Osterweil stresses this point often. He attributes this luxurious use of time to characteristics of creativity, productivity, ingenuity, and the development of imagination. Under his Twitter moniker it reads "If you aren't playing, it isn't life".

 Play: One of the most disturbing banners I've seen loomed over the doors of an urban kindergarten classroom. It read "College Starts Here!". No, it doesn't. Preschool, kindergarten, and a good portion of every classroom should incorporate time for play and time for pondering. Slow the rush to "get through" activities and the curricula. Let ideas stew, get tossed around, develop. Those are such important qualities of thought. In the hoopla of standardized testing and assessment, we as educators focus too much on ensuring that students can write the robotic five paragraph essay and solve problems and equations. But it's at a cost. Do students truly understand the conceptualization of what they're learning? Do the children get to utilize the "ideation" process of creating and writing? Once children understand the foundational knowledge of each subject, they should move beyond it. We can drill concepts and steps into our children and extend the hours of school, but that will only beget robotic students. So teachers and parents-keep encouraging your kids to get out and play, use their imaginations, and give them time to foster great ideas. Give them a stick, a paper towel tube, a shoebox, some tape, and string and watch their world expand. Thoughtfulness, playfulness and the time to do both are keys to great things.

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