I’m always touting the importance of allowing your kids time to just be – not proving their worth through academics or sports or any other activity designed to agree with our adult agendas. But have you ever noticed what it is that kids get up to when left to their own devices?
That’s right, they play!
And while adults have come to see play as an idle waste of time, it is in fact the most important state for true learning. You see, when they’re imagining that their bed is a pirate ship and the inside of the toilet roll is a telescope, they’re going beyond the boundaries of their current reality through imagination. And it is this exact process that we use as adults to understand the meaning of abstract concepts like language or mathematics. We need to be able to see these abstractions playing out in our minds, imagining what they symbolize; and if we’re unable to go beyond the formula on the page, we will never conceive of the truths that they represent.
Also, in that state of play children are relaxed and trying out new skills, social behaviours and ideas in a safe space. The minute we come in with our rules and regulations and conditioning, we abort that safe feeling and send them into “fight or flight” mode, biologically hampering learning by sending blood away from the prefrontal cortex (or higher thinking centre) and into the hindbrain (where all our survival reflexes reside).
95% of what we remember has to do with our state and only 5% with formal learning – which is why we can remember how much we hated our 2nd grade teacher and how terrible she made us feel, but we can’t remember anything about the lessons in her class.
All true learning happens in a relaxed state of play (even as adults, our ability to perform well is best done in what athletes call “the zone” or spiritual masters call “eternal presence” – the state of complete relaxation and total absorption into the activity at hand).
All the highly intelligent and great contributors to our knowledge and society – the Einstein’s and Edison’s – were daydreamers as children. As Einstein himself said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”
If we, as parents and educators, can embrace play and imagination in everyday life, whether at the dinner table or in the classroom, we will allow our children to develop without limitations into the powerful beings they were meant to become.