One of the things I believe in the most, is the value of education. Not any old education, a good one. If you think about it, every problem we have in society can be either solved or helped by having an educated and informed population. This is particularly pertinent to South Africa, the country in which I live, with its chasm between rich and poor. It seems appropriate that my JOLT was focussed on education through play.
I am a designer/copywriter, there seemed to be little I could do about education issues, except ensure that my three children received good educations and were encouraged to think, solve problems and take ownership of their futures. I had heard about a Saturday School run at my children’s school. It was started by the headmaster’s son and a few of his university friends and had been running for four years with them plugging away at English and Maths curriculum classes for about 40 children from a local shanty town. After 4 years, they were feeling despondent and burned out, and it was at this point that they appointed a coordinator for the project and sent out an appeal for help.
About 40 volunteers signed up, but we were asked not to, if we were not prepared to commit to regular teaching session. As the year started we could see that trying to plug curriculum gaps was like trying to fill a bottomless pit. So, with the help of a local Lego education organisation, we started rethinking how we were going to inspire these students and open their minds up to the possibilities of knowledge.
Education through Play
Play is the answer. And I found it fascinating that was we were talking about on an educational level, was also the kind of thing I was researching and writing about for this blog. We learn by playing. As people from reasonably well off families, we played card games and board games; we role played and built Lego contraptions; we completed jigsaw puzzles and danced. Little did we know that these games were more than games, they were teaching us to think, strategize, share, collaborate and plan while reinforcing executive functioning.
Executive functioning has three aspects:
- Inhibitory control – the ability to sit still, listen to instructions, cooperate with others, follow rules and stop yourself from behaving impulsively
- Working memory – the basic ability to remember concepts and apply them
- Problem solving – the ability to solve problems and work things out if we are not quite sure of answers.
There are lots of additional aspects that fall under these three, but if we could get these three going we would be able to give these children a solid foundation for self-learning.
What started out at the beginning of the year was Just One Little Thing – has turned into a creative challenge. I have been put in charge of the senior English programme. I have 25 students in a class ranging in age from 13 to 21. I have learned to look at every game my children have every played and figure out what the learning benefit is. I have drawn up cards and invented card games to go with them and I have forged relationships with every one of these amazing people.
The 16 year old who has been passed by default so that he is in his first year of high school, but can barely read at 3rd grade level – but he excels at maths. Once we had discovered this, we work separately with him for half of the session and he always turns up having done his own work independently during the week because he has a burning desire to nail this reading thing. There is the 14 year old who turned in a poem instead of a diary entry, and whose smile could have powered the world when I praised this diversion from the norm. There is the painfully shy girl who wrote: “my holidays were boring because I didn’t have anything to read” and I recognised in her a kindred introvert who loves losing herself between the pages of a book and so I have raided the house and found her books to read over the Christmas holiday. I could tell you something about everyone them.
So my JOLT comes with a warning. I took a step to do that one little thing and I am now hooked. I want to see “my” students succeed – these 25 amazing individuals who give up their Saturday mornings because they want to be better at school. I get as much out of this experience as they do. I get to really challenge my creative problem solving. I get to expand vocabulary and make English exciting. I get to laugh and make them laugh and forge relationships and see them respond to my crazy games. I find myself telling random strangers about this initiative and inspiring them to contribute, so that I have three music teachers who are waiting for my call next year because they want to turn up and do a day long marimba music workshop for us.
I have only one New Year’s resolution – to turn up again in 2016 and do some seriously playing.