A playful state of mind

“The nonplayful student…does the least studying she can to get the ‘A’ that she desires, and her studying is focused directly on the goal of doing well on the tests.  Any learning not related to that goal is, for her, wasted effort.  In play, however, all this is reversed.  Play is activity conducted primarily for its own sake.  The playful student enjoys studying the subject and cares little about the test.”

– Peter Gray, Free to Learn, p. 143

As a student, I had to get A’s.  Somehow I had convinced myself that it was a necessity in my life.  I really relate to this quote.  Once in a while, I remember encountering something that actually piqued my interest, something that made me really excited, but too often, I would turn the page and forget it, all in the name of self-discipline.  I felt like I didn’t have time to waste on topics that wouldn’t be tested, even if I enjoyed them.

For us, one of the greatest joys of unschooling has been to see this cycle end for our children.  When they learn, they are in a playful state of mind.  We allow our ten-year-old to create on the sewing machine all day if she wants to.  There is no pre-set project that she must complete.  Instead, she is driven to learn a new skill simply because she enjoys it, not because it was required.  The outcome is much more rewarding and much more effective.  Another daughter may paint without interruption for hours, while still another may be reading for most of the day.

Many argue that this will lead to a lack of discipline in our children.  I argue that this is simply not true.  I find that they pursue their interests with more discipline than before, because they are intrinsically motivated to do so.  It is no longer a chore.  It is something that they are motivated to do.  In that playful state of mind, their skills grow in leaps and bounds.