Kids Who Don’t Play Aren’t Ready for The Future of Work
Have you ever wondered why kids are so obsessed with playing all the time?
You could answer “to have fun,” but then you might ask, “why have we evolved to find play so fun?”
In 1998, Jaak Panksepp, a then-unknown neuroscientist, discovered that play is a fundamental circuit in the human brain–like hunger or thirst.
Think about it like this: Kids get hungry, so they'll eat food. Kids get thirsty, so they'll drink. Kids get curious, so they'll play.
Play makes kids learn twice as fast.
If that’s true, why are we forcing kids to sit still for 7 hours a day? We would only do that if we wanted them to be docile and obedient.
We seriously need to rethink this.
How to Shut Down the Pesky Play Circuit
Playful, creative, and disobedient kids are a big problem in the traditional school system.
How do you get them to sit down and do what they’re told?
We give kids who are absolutely determined to play (smart-alecks, big-mouths, class clowns, and slackers) Adderall or Ritalin. To quell playful behavior in classrooms, we use amphetamines chemically similar to meth. And, tragically, those drugs suppress — you guessed it — the play circuit.
Let’s zoom in on a key quote from that linked study: “We suggest that the effect of methylphenidate [Ritalin] on social play is a reflection of its therapeutic effect in ADHD, that is, improved behavioral inhibition. However, given the importance of social play for development, these findings may also indicate an adverse side effect of methylphenidate.”
Basically, the drugs only work because they make kids boring. The process by which kids best learn about the world is spontaneous and fun. It’s not an accident the drug works this way–it’s deliberate. And it’s a moral failing beyond belief.
Given what we already know about play (and the fact that rats who aren’t allowed to play have underdeveloped brains), this is so tragic it’s stunning. This catastrophe for kids really can’t be overstated.
If we want our kids to have better life outcomes (including wealth, health, and happiness), we must allow them to play.
How to Let Your Kids Play and Learn
If we want our kids to learn without drugging them (how sad is that?), we can’t suppress their play.
Not only is play good for them now, but it will also become even more important when they’re adults.
In the future — where careers change more often and creativity will be the fastest growing natural resource — we’ll need to be more like our hunter-gatherer ancestors.
Our paleolithic ancestors had to be masters over their ever-changing and harsh environments, or they wouldn’t survive. They achieved this by following their instincts for play. In the future, kids who tap into this power to learn will be self-taught experts, well-equipped to adapt to an ever-more-quickly-changing technological environment.
The scope of what’s economically valuable is expanding toward the four C’s: critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity. There will be ever-fewer jobs that require rote memorization and rule-following. This isn’t theoretical: traditional schools, which emphasize cramming for tests and punish free-thinking, are already failing children.
Kids no longer need to be a cog in a machine — we have literal machines for that, and more coming.
You don’t have to force kids to be interested in learning — it’s a natural human state. If we give our kids the option to follow their playful interests, they will become more interested in learning. As a happy side-effect, loosening our grip on testing-as-outcome produces kids who will likely be among the highest scorers on standardized tests. We truly can have our cake and eat it, too.
Many schools - and non-schools - are implementing this philosophy and succeeding.
However, examples of other people doing it will never fully convince you it’s possible for your kids. For that, you have to take a leap of faith. It requires a little courage, but nothing in the world is more worthwhile.
Being a playful human means being creative and happy. It’s the ideal state of being, and it’s possible for your family.
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Talk to you next week,
Taylor + the rebelEducator team
Sora, a great program for free-thinking kids, is offering a scholarship this week. Make sure to apply here.
Here’s what we’re reading this week:
Effects of Standardized Testing on Educators
Unlocking Motivation: How to Get Your Kid Excited about Learning
Quotes we’re pondering:
“Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school. It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education. ”
– Albert Einstein
“Just as eating contrary to the inclination is injurious to the health, so study without desire spoils the memory, and it retains nothing that it takes in.”
– Leonardo da Vinci
“Do not train children in learning by force and harshness, but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.”
I'm on board. But HOW do we do this? What does it look like in practice? I would love to see details, links, examples, and resources. Thank you!