30 January 2011

The plight of recess in schools

“Exploration and play ... are the basis for creative problem solving and lifelong learning. Creative thinking is fostered in classrooms where children are given opportunities to explore new materials and ideas, play with these materials or ideas, and construct new knowledge and skills....”  - Deborah W. Tegano, James D. Moran III, and Janet K. Sawyers, Creativity in Early Childhood Classroom, reprinted in Bainbridge's article “Creative Ways to Foster Creativity”.

    Creativity and playing seem to go hand in hand.  Being able to play should be second nature to children, especially imaginative play.  How many adults can remember being able to build anything out of a large cardboard box?  Or remember when a backyard full of sticks made one giddy because there was just so much to do with them?  Or getting a big box of blocks or Legos to create whatever one wanted? Can many adults remember when the playground at school or the park was a spaceship to take one to the moon?  Imaginations abounded when one was allowed to play and laugh and explore freely.  Yet, many schools are cutting recess and free play out of their school days and giving children more structured instructional time to increase test scores and increase the amount of time that children are learning.  

    This cutting back of recess and time children have free-playing is coming at a time when scientists are discovering that being able to freely play enables students to problem solve, be creative, develop social skills, and learn to control themselves.  Scientists are also discovering that unstructured free play may even make children more intelligent, as it appears to help engage their brains better. (To see the source on this, click here)

    So why this push for less recess?  Many schools are answering with this: they want to better improve test scores and school performances and enable more time for structured learning.

    There seems to be a conundrum.  Schools want smarter students and yet they are leaning towards cutting a crucial element from their school day that enables children to develop into intelligent, creative and well-socialized adults.  Instead of giving children the chance to open up their own imaginations and socialize with one another in a unstructured setting, there is structured class time or structured play time where the teachers set the rules and the limits instead of letting children learn them for themselves.  We are hindering the creativity and ultimately the intelligence of our students by cutting back on recess and free play.

    We as a society need to let our kids be able to be kids.  We should allow them more time for mobile, active free play and engage their minds in their imaginations instead of telling them what to do and how to think every minute of the day at school.  Cutting recess and free play from their daily lives not only hinders their imagination, it hinders their ability to become the workforce that businesses are clamoring for.  We are standardizing our students.

    As teachers, we should push for more free play time.  We should encourage teachers to have a little more free play time in their classrooms and should encourage children to actively play more at home.  We also should not be afraid to play ourselves.  Yes, academics are important, but so also is playtime.  The two can go hand in hand if we allow it.  As the German classical composer Carl Orff once said, children “would much rather play, and if you have their interests at heart, you will let them learn while they play; they will find that what they have mastered is child's play." It is through play that children learn best.

27 January 2011

The intelligent creativity debate

This was written for a class I am currently taking, with some modifications....

“Unlike any other creature on this planet, humans can learn and understand, without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people’s places.” ~ J.K. Rowling, Commencement Speech at Harvard University, June 2008.

    The relationship between creativity and intelligence has been discussed and debated for many years now in the world of education.    However, will anyone ever be able to fully explain the relationship between these two?  My answer is no, for as human beings we will always strive to find a bigger and better definition.  We are unable to placate ourselves with just an ordinary definition, for an ordinary definition does little to suffice such a complex idea.  Our very human nature is that of intelligent creativity.  We always strive to be our best, to learn and understand what it is that drives us and motivates us. 

    However, we also live with the very fear that failure is inevitable if we try to be too creative.  We use this fear that failure is inevitable to stifle our creativity as we  take on the responsibilities of doing well in school, going to college, getting a job and leading “normal” lives.  Any artistic talents become a waste of time as we strive to do what mainstream society expects us to do.  We fear failure and we fear breaking away from the norm and we learn these fears at a young age in the standardized school systems and from well meaning adults who want us to make something of our lives.

    Yet, failure, as J.K. Rowling reminded the students at Harvard, is inevitable.  It will be there in some way, shape or form, and that is where creativity and intelligence again come into play to make us who we should be.  It is here that we learn to draw upon not only the mistakes of the past and our intellect in learning from them but also our hopes and creative ideas of what the future should look like to dig ourselves out of our failure.

    From a young age, children should be embraced into their creative desires, and taught to think not just with book answers and test memorization, but also with their intuition and imaginations.  School should be a place of wonder, not boredom for students.  Ideas should be encouraged even the most smart-alecky ones.  Creativity and intelligence are not mortal enemies of one another, but are merely facets of the very human nature that defines us. And without that human nature, man might not even be alive today.  They have helped to evolve human kind into the stone age, the industrial revolution, the digital world and every era and genre in between. 

But that very human nature, while blessing us with so much, is also a curse.  Because of it, people strive to define the very thing that creates them.  We cannot define creativity and intelligence because they are so complex, yet feel so simple to us as humans.  We also tend to define others in regards to our own ingrained definitions of what is creative and intelligent.  We try to measure people according to standards that we ourselves cannot fully understand and define.  We ostracize those that tend to think differently from us and praise those that think alike or can come to our understanding. 

    As teachers, we need to learn to be creative in our own thinking as well as encourage it from our students.  We need to embrace that intelligence and creativity come in many facets and that the very essence of human nature cannot be standardized.  The question, however, remains:  how can we do that in a world that demands set answers and often rejects new ideas as failures?