what are we building

I was playing with my grandson earlier this week. Actually, he was playing and allowing me to play alongside. While he was so involved with play, it gave me time to review in my head about old theories and constructs of play. Yes, there’s all the philosophers and educators who wax on about the need and value of play. Then there are those who actually made things for children to play with.

Here’s what Dr. Wiki says about toy blocks’ history (It starts in 1693, but I’m skipping that):

1798Witold Rybczynski has found that the earliest mention of building bricks for children appears in Maria and R.L. Edgeworth’sPractical Education(1798). Called “rational toys,” blocks were intended to teach children about gravity and physics, as well as spatial relationships that allow them to see how many different parts become a whole.[1] …

1837Friedrich Fröbel invent a preschool educational institution Kindergarten. For that he design ten Froebel Gifts based on building blocks principles. (SIC)

And here’s a bit more about Froebel:

“Realising how the gifts were eventually misused by Kindergarten teachers who followed after Froebel, it is important to consider what Froebel expected the Gifts to achieve. He envisaged that the Gifts will teach the child to use his environment as an educational aid; secondly, that they will give the child an indication of the connection between human life and life in nature; and finally that they will create a bond between the adult and the child who play with them” Joachim Liebschner on page 82 in his book, A Child’s Work: Freedom and Guidance in Froebel’s Educational Theory and Practice

This brought up Vygotsky and his concept of “tools of the mind”, as well:

The concept of “tools of the mind” comes from the work of Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky. He believed that just as physical tools extend our physical abilities, mental tools extend our mental abilities, enabling us to solve problems and create solutions in the modern world. When applied to children, this means that to successfully function in school and beyond, children need to learn more than a set of facts and skills. They need to master a set of mental tools—tools of the mind…

At the core of Vygotsky’s theory (also known as Cultural-Historical theory) is the idea that child development is the result of interactions between children and their social environment. These interactions involve people—parents and teachers, playmates and schoolmates, brothers and sisters. They also involve cultural artifacts, such as books or toys, as well as culturally specific practices in which a child engages in the classroom, at home, or on the playground. Children are active partners in all of these interactions, constructing knowledge, skills, and attitudes, not just mirroring the world around them. Essentially, the history and the culture of the society in which a child grows up and the events making up a child’s personal history determine much more than what that child knows or likes—it also determines which mental tools the child will learn and how these tools will shape the child’s mind.

I was sure this post was getting much too preachy and not really getting anywhere when I came upon this article about the “Most Extraordinary Lego Creations You’ve Ever Seen” about a book of MOC Legos. Go take a peek. I’ll still be here when you get back.

You see, the reason that I’m particularly interested in this building instinct that we seem to have is not just grandparents’ pride (yes, he is brilliant; that is very very clear, but that goes without saying.

Too often.),

but about timing.

We read about Noah and his ark-building project this week in the Torah portion. And on the flip side, there’s the Babel Tower Project. One lonely man of faith and one mean group of politicians businessmen who just want to build the biggest tower in Creation. Noah is chided for not reaching out to the masses to get them to change their wicked ways, and he falls apart afterwards with the reality of responsibility for building up society.

The groupthink? Yeah, that doesn’t go so well, either. What goes wrong there? The task is more important than the people, in short. How are these minds shaped? To what purpose?

There’s also, from Fast Company, an article called “Can Playing With Legos Make You More Creative?”

I think they miss the point.

Playing is the work that we should be doing all along.

Okay, maybe they do get it subliminally.

Why exactly creativity measures are declining is still anyone’s guess, although evidence and intuition points to the growing emphasis on testing in education as a factor. Kids are taught to learn by understanding “the one right answer” they need to find, and what they need to do to find it. (On tests of how kids do at brainstorming ideas, 98% of three-year-olds register as “creative geniuses.” By the time they are 25? Only 2%).

Here’s how I play:)

IMG_20130726_131934_707 IMG_1923 DSC_0028 DSC_0033 DSC_0357 DSC_0009

So, the MOTS, once again, is:

כא  הֲשִׁיבֵנוּ ה אֵלֶיךָ ונשוב (וְנָשׁוּבָה), חַדֵּשׁ יָמֵינוּ כְּקֶדֶם. 21 Turn Thou us unto Thee, O LORD, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old.

2 responses

  1. I remember reading about Vygotsky years ago – a good reminder – how I loved to lay with my son’s legos, back in the day… play is where it’s at! I’m glad you’re able to do it!

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