We’re all in the business of making media for kids. We want to entertain them, as well as develop products that stimulate creative and critical thinking, and reinforce 21st century skills. As I never tire of saying, “play is how kids learn.” Ergo, what we’re giving them, what they’re playing with, is what they’re learning from. I recently attended a symposium at NYC’s City and Country School, one of the oldest progressive educational schools in the US, entitled The Power of Progressive Education: Can Creativity Be Taught?
A hundred years ago, Caroline Pratt founded City and Country based on the belief that kids are natural born learners. Today, a progressive educator’s job—or in our case—a developer’s job—is to create opportunities for kids to learn by doing; to problem solve and make mistakes; to communicate, collaborate and be curious. It seems as though too often teachers, tiger moms, and maybe too many of us, are so focused on the answers and end products that we often lose sight of the process. But the process is what’s fun. That’s the stimulant, the skill builder, the play. It’s “relatively” easy to churn out an app, a show, a toy. It’s certainly NOT easy to make it brilliant.
Author Bruce Nussbaum, who keynoted this symposium, drew correlations between the types of skills at the foundation of progressive education and the skills that power entrepreneurship and success in the real business world. Play is a cornerstone in both scenarios.
Ironically, while the American education system is slowing weaning free play out of the curriculum, China recognizes its intrinsic value. While formal Chinese education excels at test-based learning, Chinese educators turned to Big Bird to introduce new experiential skills to their kids in a playful way, debuting a Mandarin-language version of Sesame Street. It didn’t take a whole village, but merely a Street, to unleash the Chinese children’s creativity quotient.
In his book, Creative Intelligence, Nussbaum describes a brainstorming process at one company: A clear theme emerged in many of the discussions I had with leaders of some of the most creative organizations out there: simple silly play on its own doesn’t lead to innovation. …the best ideas emerged out of a process that involved a variety of players who trusted one another working together toward a specific goal.
Whether you’re in Shanghai or Seattle, whether you’re in pre-school or pre-production, 3, 5, 35, or 53, you need to play to make things work. Think about your own process. Are you open with new ideas? Do you collaborate out of your comfort zone? Are you looking in places that you thought didn’t deserve a second glance? Do you get silly before you get serious? Do you let yourself make mistakes before you make a masterpiece?
We who make media for kids to play and learn, need to step back and ask ourselves if we’re having fun creating fun. If you can’t honestly answer yes to this, you need a major time out and playdate with a real kid. Seriously.
Speaking of fun…don’t forget to register for Sandbox Summit@MIT on March 24 and 25. Send any thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org