Editor’s Note: Dr. AnnMarie Thomas previously wrote about the importance of using play to inspire the next generation of creative problem solvers. Here, she explains how it’s just as important for those who are molding the next generation to play, too.
As educators, mentors, coaches, and parents, it can often be easy to find yourself burnt out or overwhelmed. It’s hard to have engaged students when we aren’t engaged ourselves. Thus, everything I’ve written above about the importance of play is relevant in our own lives as well. As you encourage young people to play, it’s important that you also play.
Just like your students, finding activities you choose which allow you to find joy in the process is important. Take time to find that joy for yourself. Whether this means jumping in the leaves after you rake them or breaking open a new box of crayons for yourself, the time and permission to play are things that only you can give yourself. Here are some ways you can approach play:
- Playdates: Remember the “playdates” (scheduled or unscheduled) that you had with friends as a child? An hour, or many, where you and other kids had to come up with ways to entertain yourselves? It’s time to try them again! When I found myself wanting to meet new people and engage with new ideas, I started a monthly play group in my city. I found other educators, formal and informal, who were up for getting together once a month. We have show and tell, and members volunteer to bring activities for others to do. In past months we’ve built LEGO tops, decorated pop-up cards, and put together noisy circuits. There is no homework or preparation needed, and very little pressure.
- Virtual Playdates: If getting together in person is too difficult for your group of play mates, considering using digital tools to facilitate long distance get-togethers! For the last few years, I’ve hosted a salon group in which 10 people gather via Google hangouts once a month for a year. Each participant is in charge of planning one month’s activity, and mails the participants any necessary materials. We then gather online for 90 minutes, open the boxes together, and partake in the activities that month’s host has planned. (There’s more information on my website.)
- Adult Social Nights at Museums: An increasingly common – and popular – offering from museums ranging from science centers to children’s museums is the hosting of adult social nights. What could be more playful than an evening of running around a museum and exploring? Even better, many of these events include music, food, and special programming. Examples of this trend include the Exploratorium’s “After Dark Thursdays” and “MAKEnights” at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. Call your local museums and see if they have any similar offerings. If they don’t, perhaps it’s time to suggest they try one!
Dr. AnnMarie Thomas is an Associate Professor of Engineering and Entrepreneurship at the University of St. Thomas, where she directs the Playful Learning Lab. She is the former founding executive director of the Maker Education Initiative, and the author of "Making Makers: Kids, Tools, and the Future of Innovation"
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