Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Dawdling and Daydreaming as Educational Pursuits...

This morning when I walked down to the computer, Aaron had turned a link to an article into our computer wallpaper (or background or whatever it's called). The link was pasted there in huge type, and underneath it, in tiny type, was Aaron's reaction: "Duh."

It's a good article, worth reading, titled
"Daydream Achiever," from the Boston Globe, August 31, 2008. Excerpts:

"Although there are many anecdotal stories of breakthroughs resulting from daydreams - Einstein, for instance, was notorious for his wandering mind - daydreaming itself is usually cast in a negative light. Children in school are encouraged to stop daydreaming and "focus," and wandering minds are often cited as a leading cause of traffic accidents. In a culture obsessed with efficiency, daydreaming is derided as a lazy habit or a lack of discipline, the kind of thinking we rely on when we don't really want to think. It's a sign of procrastination, not productivity, something to be put away with your flip-flops and hammock as summer draws to a close.

"In recent years, however, scientists have begun to see the act of daydreaming very differently. They've demonstrated that daydreaming is a fundamental feature of the human mind - so fundamental, in fact, that it's often referred to as our "default" mode of thought. Many scientists argue that daydreaming is a crucial tool for creativity, a thought process that allows the brain to make new associations and connections...

"...What these studies all demonstrate is that proper daydreaming - the kind of thinking that occurs when the mind is thinking to itself - is a crucial feature of the healthy human brain. It might seem as though our mind is empty, but the mind is never empty: it's always bubbling over with ideas and connections.

"One of the simplest ways to foster creativity, then, may be to take daydreams more seriously. Even the mundane daydreams that occur hundreds of times a day are helping us plan for the future, interact with others, and solidify our own sense of self. And when we are stuck on a particularly difficult problem, a good daydream isn't just an escape - it may be the most productive thing we can do."

As I read the article, I realized why Aaron had typed "duh" in response to it. He liked the article, but he thought it was sad that something like this is now considered a novel idea when it should be obvious. Aaron had grown up living the kind of life where there was plenty of time for play and daydreaming. In fact, allowing for it was part of the working philosophy of our home and homeschool. More than ten years ago, I wrote this (excerpted from a longer piece):

"I can't stress enough that if you give your young children freedom to play, even while other kids their ages are filling out blanks in a workbook, you'll be amazed later at how much education was really going on. Let them think, wonder, and create as they lie in the grass, play legos, stack blocks, swing, catch grasshoppers, bounce a ball, and build forts. I think when we take them from these valuable endeavors to have them sit at a table or desk with workbooks for hours, we begin to strangle something precious. Play will move naturally into study as children mature if we give them plenty of time and freedom. Allow their interests to develop and run their natural courses, and you will see amazing results. Let those seeds germinate, and watch your kids blossom in their time.

"Don't lose sight of the fact that there is an important relationship between play and learning. What can look like dawdling or time wasting may not be at all. When my 13-year-old son was younger, he took forever to wash the dinner dishes, and after nagging him again and again to hurry, I finally realized that he wasn't dawdling. He was doing water buoyancy and displacement experiments with the dishes! I saw this, and I asked myself how important is it that he finishes those dishes within a certain amount of time?" Usually it wasn't. Aaron turns almost everything he does into an experiment or an analysis of how something works..."

You know, we really do live in a culture so fixated on focus and efficiency and measurable achievement that we have come to see slower, seemingly unproductive pursuits like daydreaming, wondering, and imagining as time-wasting, lack of attention, or even laziness. They don't seem to get us anywhere. They seem unconnected to progress, and we're looking for progress. We want visible, tangible results, but sometimes the best things can't be seen or measured!

I said
in this post that play might be just about the most important thing a child can do. And a child's truly free play, and ultimately his best education, really is, I think, rooted in, and guided by, daydreaming, wonder, curiosity, and imagination. All of those unseen qualities matter!

Play, daydreaming, imagination, and learning are all profoundly related, and the intellectual sophistication of these quiet pursuits continually grows and gradually develops into a unique and powerful education, not just for a child, but for all of us, for an entire lifetime. Creative play can actually be seen as one tangible (and very important) product of a learning, growing, creative mind. We need vision for valuing this type of pursuit!

So, whatever school or homeschool schedule you follow, whatever methods for learning you implement, whatever your educational program, I highly recommend lots and lots of time and freedom in a child's life for daydreaming and play.