Extending Play: “Stuck busters”

This design sketch builds on the 4P’s of the Lifelong Kindergarten (LLK) — Projects, Passion, Peers, Play (see http://learn.media.mit.edu/).  It is a response to the case for the 2nd topic, Play, of the Design for Living Complexities course.Case:

On average, children play less outdoors even though streets are safer. Moreover, play declines during adolescence into adulthood. So design a program to shift the norms, practices, misperceptions, or environments EITHER back towards more play outdoors and unsupervised play, or towards related alternatives OR to extend play to older ages OR both.

Design sketch:

  1. Add a fifth P – Parameters.  Implicit, I think, in what LLK have done with Logo, Scratch, Turtle, Computer clubs and when they speak of creative learning requiring Projects, involving real-world materials, and not simply problem-solving is the rules – the Parameters– of the “microworlds” that allow, but also constrain, the Play.  (See a post I made during LLK’s 2013 Learning Creative Learning course, http://wp.me/p1gwfa-uU  This post explores “the different kinds of creativity that are experienced in relation to the structure and boundaries [parameters] of the different spaces of learning and action.”)
  2. Now imagine a person that is stuck, unclear about how to move ahead on any one or more of the Ps.  They might not be clear about what Project they should be undertaking, not sure how to frame their project (should they be working within their personal life, their classroom, their workplace, their nation’s political system,…?), not feeling Passion about what they are doing, not connected with Peers whose own projects complement their own, or not seeing ways to tinker or Play with their project.  This person may be young or old or in-between.  The stuckness may relate to a child not playing outdoors or a parent not letting them do so unsupervised.  It may relate to an adult not playing much at all.  It may relate to a child or adult resisting Vivian Paley’s rule of “You can’t say you can’t play.”
  3. Who you gonna call? Actually – call “Stuck Busters,” aka a five-person 5P support team.  The process used by this team has to be developed in practice and customized to the age of the focal person, but might involve:
    a. audio recording of what is spoken so the focal person can go back and re-listen;
    b. start by everyone doing a 4-minute freewrite to get present and bring thoughts to the surface about what they might bring to the 5P support session;
    c. the focal person gives a 5-minute autobiography of how they came to be a person in this position;
    d. each member of the team taking one of the Ps, explaining what it means, and asking the focal person simply “What is something you have done well in relation to P—?  What is something that could be developed further?”;
    e. everyone writes to gather their own thoughts from what they have heard; and
    f. go around, with the focal person going last, each person saying “One thing I am taking away to chew on from this session.”  (Perhaps the focal person says more than one thing and adds an appreciation for the 5P support team.)
  4. Create a 5P non-profit to train people to form and run such teams for themselves.  Create a specific 5P meta-team to support the development of the approach, including the training.
  5. Think of peers cross-generationally, anyone around you who is or would like to be working –and playing — passionately on projects within more or less clear parameters.
  6. Stuckness might also be someone who is taking something for granted that you think could be brought into play. When a group of peers are passionate about the projects they are involved in, they tend not to take up suggestions about breaking out of the implicit parameters. (My current thinking about creativity that speaks, albeit indirectly, to this meta-issue is given in a December 2013 post at http://wp.me/p1gwfa-yJ3 ).
  7. A critical thinking on design principle here is that instead of tackling stuckness head on, say, brainstorming about ways to tinker with someone whose project has stalled, tackle it indirectly through social support that addresses all the 5Ps at the same time.
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About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor is a Professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston where he teaches and directs undergraduate and graduate programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society. His research and writing focuses on the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context, incl. Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement (U. Chicago Press, 2005) and Nature-nurture? No (2014, http://bit.ly/NNN2014). On reflective practice, see Taking Yourself Seriously: Processes of Research & Engagement (with J. Szteiter, 2012, http://bit.ly/TYS2012).

3 Responses to Extending Play: “Stuck busters”

  1. Teryl Cartwright says:

    Reflecting on your class presentation on community has some effect since I was drawn to the Lucas project for children with Spina Bifida while considering this blog too. “Toys are a precursor to greater things” so maybe “the play’s the thing.” What if there are some other tools for the Stuck Busters? How to be playful within unusual parameters–disabilities, poverty, culture…is play different if the process is? In what ways does the 5P group have fun? What if someone in the group finds a way to play no matter what–does modeling play even for adults fit in? Maybe the simplest objects work too–clearing your mind and clock so that even playing Pooh sticks can be interesting. I also think your process working with the focus person could become a game if you wanted. I like a community focused on play and encouraging and enhancing it in each other–great post!

  2. So many interesting questions. Should I say “Thanks for playing with my sketch”?

    • Teryl Cartwright says:

      Most people are not thankful for too many questions! I do like the idea so much though of working through being stuck indirectly and with support instead of trying to tackle it alone and head on. Using a 5 Point collaborative attack around the block is a nice image. I would have approached someone not playing or being able to in such a different way (perhaps too playfully) so now I have many more questions for myself to work through as to why these particular phases and persistence in my problem solving methods.

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