I’m a big fan of putting kids at the centre of their own learning and giving them as much control as possible.

By putting students in control, you can get unintended results. Sometimes students start an activity that makes me question if that activity is “school appropriate”.

Some things are obvious. If it’s violent, negative, harmful, etc… that is easy.

But what about activities that are fun, joyful, or even social? Sometimes involving collaboration, problem-solving, reading and communicating? Are they “just” a leisure activity? Do they have any place in school? Examples that come to mind:

  • building with Lego
  • solving a jigsaw puzzle
  • doodling, drawing, colouring
  • playing a web-based game, board game, console video game, app game
  • daydreaming
  • private journaling (not shown to anyone or assessed in any way)
  • unstructured outdoor play
  • reading for leisure (no log, no response, no test, etc.)
  • talking with friends
  • browsing the internet, reading webpages on a topic of interest
  • collecting rocks
  • watching videos
  • etc.

I know most people would say that “it depends”.

I often think of phrases like “creation is better than consumption” to try to judge the value of an activity. And to a degree, I believe it – I think creating is of incredible value and I encourage my students to create. But let’s be honest – we can’t be creating all of the time.

As adults, we consume far more often than we create. When’s the last time you wrote a book? In that time, how many books have you read? Were they of value to you personally, professionally? Were they just entertainment? Does it matter?

So although I love creation, I don’t like it as my only yardstick. What about the activities that aren’t creation?

How and where do we draw that line? How do we judge what constitutes learning and what doesn’t? What activities are appropriate for school and what ones should be saved for home? Are some of them okay only sometimes? If so, how much is too much? Are they okay for “community building” but not for “serious learning”? Does learning have to be serious? Do we have to assess it? If we don’t assess it, does that mean no learning took place? (But that’s a whole different topic.) If we were to let all safe, positive activities to happen, even if we weren’t sure if there was a ton of learning value, how would that change our classroom? Are these activities better than a worksheet, even if a worksheet “looks” like learning more? If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it still make a sound? Okay, maybe my thought process gets a little off-track 🙂

But these are the thoughts that go through my mind as I watch a group of students gather in my room at lunch time, hop on a Minecraft server modelled after the Hunger Games and then strategize to collaborate to gather supplies and stay alive the longest. On the one hand, my teacher voice wants to say, “we don’t play games at school – choose a better activity” but on the other hand, am I wrong?

Ideas and thoughts welcome….


Mme Dunn · January 23, 2016 at 9:54 pm

Very timely post from my perspective as I work through my thoughts and understanding of the maker movement and makerspaces. Nothing comes free — and making is no different. What do students (and teachers) sacrifice in order to create physical and temporal space for making? Are students equally served by the makerspace or does it allow some students to pursue their interests and passions at the expense of students whose passion lies in the world of literature or elsewhere? Time will tell.

Brennan · January 23, 2016 at 10:38 pm

As a teacher, I ask the same questions myself – and I love to leave my students to their own devices as often as possible. It empowers them. Gives them some creative time with friends, in their otherwise very scheduled and often overbooked/structured lives. Not much is not learning, as far as I’m concerned!

Mme Randall · February 8, 2016 at 10:56 pm

I believe that unstructured play and activity is very important for everyone. Children tend to be micro-manged these days and they need unstructured time to learn how to negotiate, collaborate, solve problems and treat each other respectfully. They are not getting enough of this and I think we are seeing some negative consequences of that.

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