In afterschool programs there is a challenge between two worlds, the world of compliance and the world of contentment. Compliance is defined as “the act of conforming, acquiescing, or yielding”. It is also defined as “the tendency to yield readily to others especially in a weak subservient way”. Contentment is defined as “the state of being content, satisfaction, and ease of mind” another term used for this is happiness.
Popular speaker and author Sir Ken Robinson said this about learning in schools, “education has been built on conformity and a fast food model to conform to industrial society of the early 20th century”. He added, “the essence of teaching is a learner and a teacher who is also a learner. Over time we have added distractions to this relationship”.
Psychologist and author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book “Flow” wrote about the elements that create happiness in work. The elements include; a challenging activity that requires skills, concentration on the task at hand, the loss of self consciousness and the transformation of time.
If we believe the work of the child is school and play, why is the system set up to interfere with some of the elements that make flow and happiness flourish? Looking at school and the subject’s children are required to learn, worksheets and other structured assignments have some of the qualities mentioned above. What I believe they are lacking is depth.
When environments support children’s choice of what they learn and when they learn it, they develop a sense of ownership and concentration that is different from thinking about how to solve a printed page of mathematics. The work children create from their own wonderings is layered, and not created with a singular method. The work has stops and starts, and is more complex in thought and action, because it requires new skill acquisition to move forward.
How do we create happiness and contentment in our program? What makes school- age learning engaging? There are 10 guidelines I follow that have proven over time to create flow in children’s work.
Children’s interest comes first. The children are in charge of their own learning. We do not have a set curriculum and the teacher’s role to be a co-learner, helper, and observer. We may have ideas of what children like, but the program is guided based on the interests of the children.
Children choose their own work. This is another layer of the first guideline. What it means is that children are in charge of what they use their time for each day. Some days are filled with interesting projects that are in depth and thought provoking. Other days are filled with eating snack, being outside, playing checkers, socializing with friends or reading a book.
Play based program. The program is play-based meaning learning occurs during play and is not structured by an adult. After children have been in school all day, in a world of compliance and order, they need a place to relax and feel free to play with friends, and work in a way that fills their spirit.
Minimize transitions. The school day is about many transitions from school to lunch, from lunch to recess, from reading lab to computer lab and so on. When I observe children in transitions is when I see children not at their best. How do you feel when standing in line anywhere for a long period of time? This is rarely our best self. Many years ago I decided to eliminate transitions, and the children are so much happier moving in a natural way between their chosen activities.
Have interesting materials. We have a wide range of open-ended materials in our program. Some we purchase like Lego’s, magna tiles, blocks of different types etc. The majority of our materials come from recycled sources and are purchased at the SCRAP store or donated by the parents in the program.
Those are the first 5 guidelines we use to create contentment and flow in our school-age program. In my next post I will write about that next five.