Recently I had a series of experiences that that left an impact on me because of the connections I made with others. When I reflected, the common denominator was that each of these experiences began with play!
The kick off for all these interactions was a team development day and, as always, there was so much to do and so little time. Some of our team members had facilitated a Maker’s Den for one of our partner schools and suggested that we do the same as a team. Despite the time crunch we decided to start the day with some time to play with our new Makey Makeys and Google Cardboard.
As we read and followed the step by step directions, we began to work together to “make it work”. I expected to learn how to set up the Makey Makey, how it worked and play a few tunes on a banana piano. I did all three of those things but the best part of the experience far exceeded what I learned about the tools. Our team prioritized time to let go and play. Slowly we began learning together in a safe environment where there were no other expectations but to experiment and have fun. Through these interactions, we generated so many new ideas and forged deeper connections with one another.
Since we had so much fun as a team, we ended up leaving all the tools out for a group of superintendents that were convening in the afternoon. As they walked in, they gravitated towards the Google Cardboard (who wouldn’t?!) and began to play. It was the third time we had met together as a group and they vibe was different; people we laughing, sharing and best of all connecting. The opportunity to play changed the dynamics, allowing busy people to unwind and paved the ways for everyone to imagine new possibilities as we discussed innovation in education.
That same weekend I was hosting a group of 1st grade girls for my daughter’s 7th birthday and first sleepover. I brought both the Makey Makey and the Google Cardboard home for the kids to play with. Watching them “experience” the Eiffel Tower and learn about making circuits was exciting as an educator and parent. What I hadn’t expected, however, was the opportunity to connect with each of the families that dropped off their daughters. They were reasonably anxious until they walked in the kitchen and were invited to try out Google Cardboard and make various sounds by touching the silly putty and bananas on my kitchen counter. Each family stayed and played for a bit. We played, talked, and laughed and their anxiety dissipated.
These three experiences have made me think a lot about the importance of prioritizing play. The biggest takeaways for me are:
Play is fun: I know this statement sounds redundant but as busy adults on a mission to go somewhen or do something, this simple truth can easily get lost in all the other “stuff”. Spending time playing allows me (or maybe forces, if I am being honest) to let go of the never ending to do list and be present in the moment.
Play builds connections between people and ideas: In each of the different events, we spent good bit of time “playing” but got so much more in return. As I reflect on the connections made through the various experiences, it was clear the opportunity to play and have unstructured fun was extremely productive. We created new knowledge about the products, ideas, and people. From our shared experiences, I had opportunities to develop new bonds–we problem solved, we communicated, we laughed and connected.
Play paves the way for creativity and innovation: It seems every time I talk to someone there is a sense of too much to do and never enough time. There is a sense of urgency to get to work and make use of our time but after spending a significant amount of time playing I am reminded that sometimes you just need time and space to explore, tinker and play. We often jump into the work but what are we missing if we don’t take time to play?