Friday, January 13, 2017

Why We Need Freedom

A couple days ago, I illustrated a post with some photos of some skewer and berry basket play. The photos had nothing to do with the content of the post, but I'd liked the pictures and wanted readers to see them.

The foundation of what you saw had been created by an adult who had been messing around with the materials because the kids weren't. I'd been a bit disappointed, because I thought it was a cool provocation, and several children did swing by to investigate the adult-created sculptures, contributing a skewer here or there, but for the most part the kids didn't share my definition of "cool."

But I've learned over the years that it sometimes takes a few days and a few tweaks to spark their curiosity. So I've let it ride for the last few days, although I did move it all to a different table and added old-fashioned wooden clothespins, some cardboard egg flats, and a few plastic counting bears. And sure enough, over the course of the week, more and more kids engaged the materials with each passing day, finding more and more complex ways to interact with both the materials and with one another via the materials.

At first their attempts were along the lines of Monday's adult -- one child in solo play using the baskets and skewers for constructions -- but it wasn't long before they began collaborating. A couple kids, for instance, invented a kind of board game involving the bears and the egg flats, a game they called Castle Capture and involved a complex set of rules by which you could move your bears "between the mountains" in the quest to "defeat" your opponent. It played a bit like Chinese Checkers and I never once saw a castle actually captured.

Then someone discovered how the peg-style clothespins worked and found they could be used to connect the berry baskets. This innovation lead to an explosion of play at the red table as kids, usually working together and in constant conversation, began to manufacture increasingly complex structures, both physical and social, sharing engineering and dramatic play ideas with one another in a mini-frenzy of viral learning.

This, of course, is how most of humanity's greatest advancements have occurred, people coming together in the spirit of cooperation, sharing their ideas and wisdom, sparking off one another, lifting one another, supporting one another, until something new and better emerges. It's the sort of thing, however, that can really only happen when humans are free: to associate with whom they wish; to tinker for hours and days; to think their own thoughts, try their own experiments, and to collaborate without the heartless mandates of beat-or-be-beaten competition.

I tried to remain aloof from the goings on at the red table, standing fully erect, observing, not wanting to step in and accidentally step on their freedom, because, you know, we're all counting on these kids.

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