Month: October 2012

Perserverance vs. the Wind

This group of kiddos astounds me. For a week now, they have worked at full tilt every day to dig a hole for a “fence”. They spend an hour digging up the dirt and propping up the branches.

Alas, we share the playground with another school, and those kids come outside after us, take the branches down, and fill in the hole. Every day.

Our kids are convinced it’s the wind that keeps knocking everything down. So they are determined to put it back up. Every day.

Their perserverance amazes me. They refuse to give up. They are going to get this fence up. Wind be damned.


and more perserverance than most adults.


Or Character or a Positive Attitude. Whatever you want to call it. We need it as adults to handle everyday life, disappointments, and criticism. This piece with Brian Williams from Rock Center is really fascinating, and is a great reason why we emphasize so heavily the social-emotional development of  our preschoolers in play-based learning schools. I love the idea of a CPA or character point average instead of, or along with, a GPA in our schools!

The 5 C’s

Thank goodness for the parents in my classroom. They are constantly on the look out for articles about play-based learning and sending them to me. I just received this fabulous one about motivation and learning and it begged to be passed on to you all.  Dr. Mark Lepper, a professor at Stanford University, researched the effects of both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation on children’s play and developed the following theory:

“As Lepper noted, the British philosopher John Locke first observed in 1693 in Some Thoughts on Education that in teaching a child, care must be taken that learning never be made a business to him. “I’ve always had the fancy that learning might be made a play and a recreation to children, they might be brought to a desire to be taught if only learning were proposed to them as a thing of delight and recreation,” Locke wrote. Teachers — and parents — often unwittingly turn play into work, the source of a further unintended effect on intrinsic motivation. The longer children are in school, the less they seemed to be intrinsically motivated. Certainly, trappings such as grades and test scores become more important as children progress in school, but overall, such extrinsic motivation or rewards, stay fairly level. So, the final direction Lepper’s research took was a look into how to turn work into play and led to what he calls “The Five C’s.”

The first “C” for turning work into play is challenge. There is a lot of evidence that children — as well as the the rest of us — will seek out challenges, that if you give children tasks of different levels of difficulty, they’ll look for one of intermediate difficulty — the one where they’re not certain they’re going to succeed, but it’s not impossible. They think they can improve and learn and become better.

It’s fun.

For the next “C,” remember children search for competence, evidence that they’ve accomplished something at a high level, or that they’ve improved. And they like to feel that they are personally responsible for their success, that it wasn’t just luck or the ease of the task. Only when the task is challenging do they begin to feel competence when they succeed, when they feel like effort, skill and ability entered into the success.

The third “C” is that people of all ages like to be in control. They like to feel like they’re in charge, that they’re determining their own fates. This is a particularly American or Western European concept.

The fourth “C” is curiosity. We often seek out things because we’re curious, because they’re mysterious and complex, things we sort of understand but not quite. The incongruity makes us want to learn more. Good teachers are adept at bringing out this sense of wonderment.

And finally, the fifth “C” is context, which refers to the fact that we often get great pleasure from engrossing ourselves in imaginary environments — listening to stories, reading books, going to movies, watching TV, playing video games. It’s not clear in the literature, Lepper says, precisely what the rewards are of identifying with characters, but it’s clearly a very powerful effect”.

For me, this article was another great reminder of why we choose to do what we do everyday, the way we do it: through play and inspiration and imagination, motivated by the joy of watching our children learn and be delighted all at the same time.

If you build it, they will come….

I have recently become even more enamored with the beauty of blocks. Big ones, small ones, inside the classroom, and outside on the playground.

We put these great blocks on the playground a week ago…

They have been turned into everything from a train with conductors,

to igloos,

to space stations.

So build up your block areas at school. Inside and Out. Just when you think you have enough, add even more. The kids and their imaginations will come.