July 03, 2012 — TLC for Your Family – Learning and Working as Play

TLC for Your Family – Learning and Working as Play
July 03, 2012

Here's your July 2012 TLC for Your Family Ezine – Enjoy!

Child Playing with Toy Construction Trucks ca. 2000

As many of you know, we unschool.

Think of unschooling as learning through play, which ultimately transitions into work as play.

By “play” I mean that which a person experiences as fun, stimulating, freely chosen, droppable at will, manageable, and self-paced.

According to the literature out there, play is usually story-based and physical – for the youngest children anyway.

By “story-based,” I mean involving imaginary worlds, which the child can easily manage and control (so as to avoid overwhelm, with is anathema to learning).

By “physical” I mean involving movement and three-dimensional objects, used to symbolize story elements. For example, blocks are used to build; dolls and figures are used to simulate action and interaction; and so on.

But as children age, play usually becomes increasingly abstract and decreasingly physical. This is the stage both of our 8 and 12 year old boys are in now.

An example of play in that second stage is an online game like Minecraft. “Mine” refers to mining for iron ore and other natural resources. Players mine resources at first just to survive, and eventually to build up to a fully functional market-based civilization.

The game is story-based. But it’s less physical, because it is conducted on a computer, rather than via the manipulation of tangible objects.

What’s most fascinating to me about the pretend worlds of first two stages described above, is that “academic skills” are required in each of them, just as they’re required in the “real world.” Hence, children naturally want to and do acquire those skills, as needed.

This leads to skill building upon skill, in a constant atmosphere of self-paced ease – the optimal environment for learning, per hundreds of studies referenced below.

And, before you know it, your kids are doing high level math and physics, in many cases, and you have no idea how it happened. I kid you not.

So, for example, in the first stage, our youngest son would engage in physical, story-based play that involved simpler math and reading skills.

One of the ways he did this, almost daily for years, was by testing and rating all of his little battery operated trains according to three criteria: strength, speed, and ____. Then he’d then create increasingly detailed bar graphs with written descriptions of his findings. He’d also theorize why his results often changed each time (e.g., relative battery strength, etc.).

All of this required math, science, and writing skills at or above his “grade level.” And all of it was freely and joyfully chosen, as part of his manageable, story-based, physical play.

And, in the second stage, both of our boys pick-up and use complex physics, arithmetic, algebraic, and deductive and inductive reasoning skills in the Minecraft and online game-creation play they do.

The online game-creation they do is primarily on a physics-based platform called Sploder, which has an active online community with whom you can learn, network, and share your games. Minecraft also has an optional interactivity component, where you can join other players on highly populated servers.

With both Minecraft and game-building, they do a great deal of reading, writing, and interacting.

(Also, in this second stage, they watch and listen to “stories” about history and science, told in historical fiction we read, and on the TV programs Nova and Nature).

No pressure applied whatsoever with any of this – again, creating the ideal environment for deep, lasting learning, according to research cited below.

But what’s the final stage? That is, how do these children transition into the “real world”?

Eventually children’s competence hits such a high levels, in their stage one and two play, that they begin to at first dabble, and ultimately dive into work-as-play, out in the “real world.”

That is, they become increasingly ready, and hence interested in, creating things for real, life-sustaining trade; researching and presenting ideas for serious evaluation by others; collaborating with real people outside the family unit in the process; and forming deeper personal relationships beyond the family unit – relationships that may soon take them outside of that family unit, to create one of their own.

The game-making play our boys do in this second stage is a great example of “dabbling” in all of the above. They trade their games with others, they get evaluated by others for their contribution, they collaborate with those people to learn new ways to make various features in their games, and, in so doing, they form personal relationships.

Another great example of this dabbling is small businesses unschooled kids often engage in. For example, a friend’s child creates and sells friendship bracelets at craft fairs to raise money for a particular charity. And my nieces, ages 11 and 14, create and sell special “butterfly” backpacks online.
Meanwhile, other children in this stage go delve more into research-like pursuits – sometimes ultimately leading to grad school and life as a professor, doctor, laywer, or the like. An example of a child who dabbles in real-world research comes to mind with an unschooled child I know who’s deeply involved in bird watching. He records his findings, with the help of his mother, and regularly reports them to a non-profit that tracks the information.
Again, all without pressure of any kind.

But don’t people need incentives – aka, rewards, and punishments (pressure, grades, etc.) – to learn, and, ultimately, to work?

Turns out such external “motivators,” can actually be counterproductive.

See the book “Punished by Rewards,” by Alfie Kohn, for information about hundreds of studies showing the long list of side-effects that result from the use of punishments and rewards.

These side-effects include: damage to relationships; reduction in intrinsic interest in the reinforced activities; lower quality performance; etc..
More narrowly, on the issue of lower quality performance, check out Dan Pink’s book “Drive,” or the fun, animated, 10 minute version on YouTube by clicking here.

The studies Pink describes show that people innovate best when their needs are fully met (rather than being “contingently” met – i.e., you’ll get them met only if you do x, y and z – which is how rewards and punishments work), and they’re motivated solely by their needs for contribution, purpose, and/or mastery.

(As an aside, the above is actually one of the reasons I advocate for a Resource Based Economy [RBE] too – because the same consequences of a reward/punishments systems apply to the world of work. That is, when we make people’s survival contingent upon their production, as we do in this monetary-market system, we reduce intrinsic interest, productivity and innovation. That’s why, in an RBE, the goal would be moneyless, sustainable abundance for all, via smart technological design. But that’s another topic for another ezine.)

For now, I hope these musings helped you get more information about learning and working as play!

For more information on unschooling, Google the word, and check out the books "Radical Unschooling: A Revolution Has Begun” by Dayna Martin and “Unschooling: A Lifestyle of Learning” by Sara McGrath.

And, if you’re interested in unschooling, but don’t think you could make it happen in your family, for any number of reasons, I invite you to check out the book “Guerrilla Learning: How to Give Your Kids a Real Education With or Without School,” by Grace Llewellyn and Amy Silver.

Meanwhile, whatever you and your family does next, I wish you all “Happy Family-ing!”

Tiffany Clark
Family-Focused Speaker, Author and Advocate
Discover What Might be Possible in Your Family Life!

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