The Story of... Time
This is one of those posts that actually I was kind of saving for my book, but due to the response I have received after my keynote in Athens where I briefly mentioned how I see time connected to play and as a part of Original Learning, I feel there is reason to share my thinking earlier...
Four or five years ago I was chatting with my children and up popped that phrase that we adults like to use...
"you need to think outside of the box"
- my daughter replied by saying that her box was bigger on the inside and could travel through time and space.
It got me thinking about how we package education and children.
At the same period of time I listened to a lecture about time by Walter Kohan who introduced me to the ideas of chronos, aeon and kairos; In this post today I will concentrate just on chronos and aeon (aion) as a way to explain how I see play, childhood, learning, adulthood and education...
For the most part we are unaware of time. We are busy with our lives and don't give it all that much thought.
But as adults we tend to find ourselves in chronos... think chronology/chronological - a time that is linear, that is filled with must-do's and routines, while, for children in play, they experience aeon - where time loses the sense of chronos, a minute becomes sixty seconds, an hour and minute, and suddenly there is the surprise that a few hours have gone by, as they were so deep in play... this is something we, as adults, can experience too when we are enjoying ourselves or deeply involved in what we do... we lose that sense of chronos.
“…what is time? Who can give that a brief or easy answer? Who can even form a conception of it to be put into words? Yet what do we mention more often or familiarly in our conversation than time? We must therefore know what we are talking about when we refer to it, or when we hear someone else doing so. But what, exactly, is that? I know what it is if no one asks; but if anyone does, then I cannot explain it.”
-Saint Augustine, Confessions (book 11, chapter 3) (400CE)
Since getting back from Athens I have been mentioning Greg Bottrill several times in my posts, and this is not just because he is an inspiring educator determined to be one of those bringing back play into education, but also because we have been chatting about time, aeon, chronos and the magic door that he talked about at the conference... in the coming week you will get to read a e-mail dialogue that we have had, as I will share it here on my blog. But if you can't wait for that, then take a look at this post by Greg about the magic door and children's 7th Sense.
This realm on the other side of the door that Greg talks about... this realm of play, is also the realm of aeon. As an adult I feel like I have never lost my ability to enter aeon, and it was when I first heard about this time thinking that so much started to make sense for me, I do not feel like I fully belong to chronos... its like I never climbed out of my box as my daughter described...
I still have a box that travels through time and space and did not give it up as most children are forced to do. I feel the reason why so many are encouraged to think outside the box is because education forced everyone to ditch their unique boxes at the school door and start using a standard box, a one size fits all sort of box.
I was lucky, as were my daughters, we worked out how to fit our own box into the standard box, to disguise it from the system and hold onto it. My son has not been so lucky... it's not so much that he has not known how to fit his box into that standard box, but that he has simply refused to even try. An education based on chronos makes no sense to him while he thrives in aeon. repeating math exercises over and over again, reading books that do not interest him... all of this seems like a waste of time to him. Then there are those children who spend so much energy on trying to fit into that box, that there is little left to learn, and those children that try and try to fit in the box, but can't and then those who fall right through, and educators think they are in the box and don't take the time to find out where they really are.
Now I am not saying that we should all be in aeon all the time. We need chronos, and kairos, together they make a whole. What I am writing about is that fact that there is a tendency to try and shut out aeon, therefore we are losing our sense of whole.
As Greg and I have chatted, we realise that neither of us "visit" this realm on the other side of the magic door, we still inhabit it, in fact we are more visitors in chronos. As an adult I have the intellectual capacity to be a part of chronos, to be responsible for chronos as a parent and as a teacher, but as a person true to myself, I am more comfortable in the realm of children, in the realm of aeon... and this sense of stress and must-do's and achievements takes an enormous amount of energy to be a part of. I have learned to take time every day for dedicated daydream time... to open that door and disappear from chronos for a while. I am happier for it... and everywhere online you can find posts about the need to make time for yourself... one popped into my feed today... you can read it here (NY Times) or one of my posts The Importance of rest Time for Creativity or Does Boredom give birth to Creativity where I argue it is the need for unstructured time children need not boredom...
As we chatted I began to form an image of school contructing a fortress around this magic realm, brick by brick making it more and more inaccessible for children to enter. Eventually building a moat filled with dangers and removing the drawbridge so there was no longer access to the magic door... if you are lucky there is a small rickety bridge that can get you over, and is probably the reason most adults do not dare to cross and then project that fear onto their children.
Of course that bridge can be repaired, as our faith and understanding in children and play is restored...
adults can enter the realm, become visitors, with their suitcase of skills, as Greg writes, to enable learning to happen within aeon.(but we have to be aware of our adult power and how that impacts the children... read Harnessing the Power of Play for more thoughts on that)
I find that the activities that I am doing, when I enter that time-warp feeling, aeon, tend to be creative ones... and I use this word in its widest meaning... we can be creative in math, in science, in art, in dance, in music, in our social interactions and our thoughts...
Schools and society tend to frown on this state of aeon, on a state of play, where imagination and creativity hang out - but still have high expectations that people need to be creative and imaginative.
If we want creative and imaginative people we need to ensure there is TIME and SPACE for this... the magic door... a portal to this time and space. The school system needs to stop building this wall, needs to stop encouraging adults to see play as dangerous and subversive. I have entered dialogues with adults about play, especially trying to understand what is "free-play", where it is seen as something dangerous for children where they will get hurt physically, emotionally and psychologically and that it is the adult responsibility to reign-in the play to keep them safe.
I would like to argue that children who do not get enough time on the other side of that magic door, are not going to have the same play competency as those who have free access: children who are wired differently might need more support to decode the play (this could be due to a diagnosis or trauma) and children who have been managed by adults, wrapped in cotton wool, are not going to know how to play freely either... its like they are on bungie lines, as soon as things don't look pleasant they are snatched back into chronos for the teacher to instruct them on how to behave... or chronos snatches them back to lessons from their play, so that they never get into a deep state of play. My argument is that in deep play children learn, are competent. But if we are snatching them away from deep play then we are also making them dependent on us adults. Which makes me so frustrated, as I hear teachers all the time talking about their aim is for the children to be independent, but then they don't give them access to the skills and the time to practice this skills to become independent.
At the same time, it is my responsibility as an adult to take care of chronos, to free up the children's access to aeon, I believe this is what Alison Gopnik implies when she talks about the longer the childhood the more smart we are... comparing chickens and crows... the latter are taken care of by parents for about 2 years instead of weeks... So does making time for play - this idea of wasting time - mean that children learn better? (Alison Gopniks TedTalk is included at the end of this post for you to watch)
This connects to my theory of Original Learning - where we weave in learning, facts and experiences into the strands of play - and the children create knowledge. Knowledge is necessary for imagination... it is hard to imagine something you have absolutely no knowledge about; but imagination can connect and expand on ideas and previous knowledge to create new knowledge. It's complicated. But, if we think of knowledge like an island - the larger the island the longer the coastline of imagination.
So as an educator I expose the children to new experiences, new facts, new activities and stories - and then give them time to process this through play.
If we are not giving children (humans) enough time to process their experiences, through play and through rest - but spend all our time trying to fill their minds with more and more facts then we are denying children their right to create knowledge. I am all for a knowledge-based school.... but I fear that schools today are not knowledge-based, but fact-based. And their chronos based agendas of schedules and standardised testing means there is little to no time for children to go through that magic door to process all they are learning in school.
Not even after school do they get this "free play"... what with scheduled activities, sports, extra curricular lessons, and stranger danger impinging on the children's freedom. It is just to read posts by Lenore Skenazy on Free Range Kids to see how society is forever tightening their grip on children's roaming and play rights and how subversive one is made to be if you dare to defy that!
While I am all for ensuring there is more play in early years settings and schools I must also press the point, again, that this play within these educational and care institutions should not, in any way, be replacing play... true play, free play.
PLAY. It is Time. It is Space. It is Imagination. It is Power. It is children. It is their language.
It is everyone's language but it is taken away from us in school... as Malaguzzi implies in his poem of a hundred languages... (read Debi Keyte-Hartland's post to find out more if it is new to you)
Adults need to learn how to communicate in play again. So that there is not this idea of
child v adult - play v work...
but that that it is simply human to work and play, to be in chronos, aeon and kairos (Kairos is, briefly, a time when conditions are right for the accomplishment of a crucial action : the opportune and decisive moment.).
I would like to add one more element of time... that does not have a name, but maybe someone with knowledge of ancient Greek could give me a suitable one... that time that seems to drag on for everrrrrr... the "are we there moments" when anxiety or stress extend the seconds and minutes to what feels like an eternity.
I end with the lyrics from Pink Floyd's Another Brick in the Wall... which I still remember vividly how the music video to this song freaked me out as a child, as children were factory style moved on a conveyor belt into a meat grinder... I still get that feeling of discomfort every time I listen to the song.
We don't need no education We dont need no thought control No dark sarcasm in the classroom Teachers leave them kids alone Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone! All in all it's just another brick in the wall. All in all you're just another brick in the wall.
Are we as teachers putting those bricks into the wall, disconnecting children from aeon, from play... from the place of magic. A safe place to explore big ideas? Or are teachers and parents the actual bricks? Are we physically and emotionally preventing children from accessing this realm because we have forgotten what really lies there?
below is the Ted Talk as promised.