Could Exploratory Playfulness Be the Way to Innovate?
“The creative mind is the playful mind. Philosophy is the play and dance of ideas.” - Eric Hoffer
Few years back, a fellow teacher popped into my classroom wondering what I was doing with multiple sets of Legos. She saw me placing those sets on each group desk before my English Vocabulary lesson. I told her I will be using them to teach the kids the new vocabulary words. She doubted that it would work and asked me to share the outcome of the lesson. From that day on, visualization, building, and constructing became part of our daily lessons in all disciplines.
Throughout my years of teaching I noticed that as kids grow up and become adults, they start self-editing to be original. And that's not frisky. What I mean here is that, we need to break that cycle when our brains become so familiar with what we do and even become expert in them, but then resistant to change because we become too “serious”.
Let me begin this article by sharing an interesting fact about our brain. It tends to create shortcuts when we become adults to ensure we are high-performing and quick-thinking individuals. Now this is a good thing specially when we as adults are required to make fast decisions and generate quick thinking. However, the downside of this, is that it compromises our creativity and how well we adapt to change. What causes this notion is a part of our brain called "Myelin". So, as kids grow older, they start losing the freedom of expressing their ideas, they start containing that skill and even become more sensitive towards the opinions of others. “Serious again”.
Give a cardboard box to a child, and what might just look like a box to you and me, might mean a spaceship, a shelter or even a teleporter for another dimension to them.
That's because they're not afraid to follow their imagination or take risks and explore. Because the (Myelin) of our brain narrows our thinking as adults to things we have done or decided before. And in order to allow our brains to be divergent and think outside the norm, we train our brain to explore, not to just practice, and repeat. " Practice create Myelin, which makes you smarter and faster, but it also makes you repetitive, consistent and dismissive." (Gutsche, J, 2020). This leads us to how the exploratory play begins, and it’s our takeaway as educators, to teach students to not be afraid of what others might think of their ideas. We teach them the "Go for it" attitude.
As leaders of education, maybe we could entertain that thought, and work collaboratively to show our students that it's OK to share your wild ideas and have fun in the process. Therefore, if we stress enough on the concept of creating a fun, free and spatial environment to our students, then their attitude might change to be able to face challenges differently. We call this approach "creative playfulness" to unlock creative thinking.
Kids in schools at the early stages of their learning are lucky to have all the materials, resources, playgrounds, colors, toys craft…etc. But the sad part is, as kids go through the school system, they lose all of these stuff that facilitate the playfulness thinking. By the time they get to high school and graduate from the university and be ready to embark on the real working world, they would have lost that wild innovative frame of mind, as by that time, they would learned structures, rules, policies and standards. They would have gotten busy dealing with realities like projects, personal life, kids and maintaining a lifestyle which could reduce their desire to push for creative thinking.
Take big companies that are market leaders in innovation, and how they understood the way to creativity through creating a playful environment for their employees, like Google office in Zurich, Airbnb in London, or Bright HR in Manchester, Red bull office in Mexico City and many more. They have designed their workplaces in a way they knew that element of playfulness is the right one to evoke innovation. Employees working for those companies reported that they were feeling relaxed, familiar with their surroundings and comfortable with the people working with them. Research shows that people tend to innovate and create in places and environments that have the same kind of security and playfulness kids feel because kids are more engaged with open possibilities.
Kids at school all the way from k-12 need to be provided with opportunities and space that would un-limit their creativity through freedom of exploration and playfulness. School Leaders should rethink the whole education system; from the design of the school building, to the classroom spaces, to the curriculum and assessment structure. As we are in a time of extraordinary change and uncertainty, it is vital to prepare our kids to embrace the uncertain challenges by allowing students to build, construct, converse their ideas and transform them into visuals. As leaders of education, we shall be dedicated to the idea of making and “Do It Yourself” movement. We can transform education to adopt the mindset of solution designers and prepare a generation to become engaged members of our community who contribute innovatively and positively to the well-being of our community. To my fellow educators; don't teach kids new vocabulary by looking up the meaning in a dictionary, but rather give them blocks, Lego sets, or any craft materials and ask them to build the meaning of the word. Let them explain their constructions, let them explore and innovate meanings and build different worlds and scenarios of sentences. Let them role play and tell stories. Let them sing and perform. You are not wasting instructional time, but in fact you are encouraging their creative confidence through creative playfulness.
Author: Eman Hamshari Innovation for learning lead/ Design Thinking Facilitator.