04 Learning Through Play – Jules

Jules from Think with Things is working with adults in business as well as educators of kids from 2,5 years old to college age on powering learning and thinking with found objects. The process increases the level and efficiency of both communication and cognitive thinking.

Interview written by Hanna Kuikka

"We are not talking to educators about teaching creativity, but about keeping creativity. Children are naturally creative, curious and collaborative; they are natural innovators and inventors. It is education that slowly educates them out of those things and more into work-related repetition and factual knowledge-based thinking.

However, it is found more and more in workplaces that people need to be more creative and less factual. Facts are easy to find. So spending all of our childhood learning facts to be able to regurgitate them is pretty useless at this point. Our work focuses on the importance of fostering opportunities where kids are not sitting alone at a desk but that they can collaborate, work on things, build structures or ideas, test them, fail...

In families we don't allow our children to fail, which is actually a problem. We protect them too much in a bubble, and we tend to help them too much. We don't allow them to struggle, we don't want them to get hurt or frustrated. However, frustration is actually really important for kids because through frustration they learn that working hard gets them what they want. A lot of the times children do not have this opportunity to feel the success of really hard work. We take it away from them. So we need to allow them to work through that and understand that working hard gets them to success.

At the same time, in schools we go the opposite direction. We make it almost bad to fail. So kids have this fear of giving a go at something they don't know how to do because they don't want to fail at it. This is a problem because we can not be innovative if we are afraid of failing. It's a slow process of weaning them out of creativity in a way.

So we need to give a lot of opportunities as parents to kids to be creative and not in a structured way as we often do. We tend to want them to be multilingual, sportive and creative so we assign a weekly schedule for them to do swimming, art, singing and language classes. However, children also need to have absolute freedom for open play, to do and test whatever they want. To make a mess. Often times when we say "oh you are messy" to a child it has a negative connotation which makes them feel they are doing something wrong. In our house being messy is a positive thing.

We can create opportunities for open play by making available different materials and giving our children ownership of those moments and spaces in which they know that they can do what they want and have access to the things that they want to do. Let them make a mess, let them struggle it, gluing and cutting and building something.

In our language, instead of saying "good job" we could say "you worked really hard at that". Or "I saw that you were frustrated and you worked really hard and you really learned how to do it" or "I really liked the colors you chose". We can aim to create a conversation.

During outside play, we can allow more freedom to our children to face danger a little bit and make their own decisions from a young age. How many parents allow their kids to climb trees anymore?

We can also use found and recycled materials as objects for learning and thinking. It is common to give people a piece of paper and a pencil to draw out an idea or to do maths or to write a story, but that is not very natural for all learning styles. Children and part of adults also work really well to tell a story with things or while moving their body. Children can do multiplication and counting when they are using objects, and going further with that would be to allow them to do algebra with that or geometry. It is a much richer experience.

At Think with Things, we are not trying to promote replacing paper and pencil but also making that available for children and adults to think with. There is a complex theory behind this, which is something called embodied cognition. We have had the opportunity to be around a lot of scientists and educators who have been looking into this, and while we do not yet know everything about how it works, what we do know is that the mind dictates what the body does but it could also be that the body dictates what the mind does. It has a lot to do with for example how Italians speak with their hands. If you put an Italian's hands in his pockets he can't actually tell you the story in the same way.

So there is a theory that when you are holding something in your hands, it actually affects a different part of your brain. You can get to a different level when you are using objects than if you are just speaking or writing. We see this working really well.

With Think with Things, we are giving children tools to think with and to build ideas with. The way we work with adults is to first help them find their creativity again through play. Once adults start playing they start to reconnect with the child that they were, whether it was a child who would like to build things or to dance or sing. It is about finding out what they loved doing as a child, that in many cases would have become their passion if they would have fostered it. Then they can build new ideas from this creative space, while having access to all of their adult experience and knowledge.

Regarding both children and adults, we should not make failing something to fear. It should be an ok thing to just try again. If we are afraid of trying new things, we can easily get stuck on autopilot doing the same things over and over again. This begins with parents - allowing kids to become frustrated and instead of taking over what they are doing, letting them try even if we think something might be beyond their abilities. When we communicate to our children that we believe they are capable and can do it, they are able to build trust in themselves too and continue developing their creative capacities."