“For this week’s activity, read Seymour Papert’s essay on the “Gears of My Childhood” and write about an object from your childhood that interested and influenced you. Share your story in the group.” – Learning Creative Learning Mooc, Session 2
When I think back to my childhood, I must admit that memories from my earliest years are sketchy at best. Seymour recalled the influence of gears on his development of models from as early as to years of age. I can’t do anything remotely similar.
Image Credit: Ianus Keller, Flickr
However, I do recall the influence of Lego on my development. I spent hours building,
tinkering, creating. I remember craving more pieces and new pieces that would allow me to create what I was imagining in my mind. Sadly, my parents missed this and didn’t work to develop the materials that I needed… that I craved. This is likely due to the fact that they spent no time with me in pursuing my interests here. They just didn’t understand. They missed it. Let me just say that I’ve remedied that oversight with my own children who have both developed an incredible tinkerer/maker mindset and ability. It some sense, it validates for me the importance of making “making” available to children and spending time immersed in the activity of making – in whatever form it might be.
But back to me. My earliest experiences with Lego and making many things led to making many more things, understanding and using tools, and the ability to tinker – even at the expense of breaking things. Yes, I broke many things. My parents weren’t always “embracing my failure” here… It progressed to mechanics – a snowmobile, a first car (a junky VW Beetle), woodworking/construction, and just this past year… fixing the clothes dryer (much to my wife’s dismay – she really wanted a new one). I think it developed a mindset of tinkering – a confidence that even if I don’t know how to solve a problem at the outset, I’ll be able to figure it out. However, I have begun to notice that my willingness to take risks seems to have decreased over time. Perhaps some of that can be chalked up to wisdom. Likely some of it can be attributed to a more “grown-up” mindset where anything just isn’t possible, where there is not always a guaranteed positive outcome, and that failure is bad. I think this gets in my way sometimes, and I KNOW it gets in the way within the context of K-12 schooling and classrooms… the very place and time where everything should be possible; where imagination is allowed to run rampant; where failure is just an acceptable part of learning; where “dirty hands” and messiness are signs of engagement.
It may not be gears that our children are interested in (as Seymour wisely points out), but it does speak to the importance of necessary conditions for models to develop and for assimilation and transfer of ideas to occur. I love that MIT named its learning space, “Lifelong Kindergarten”. Sadly, some of what has been so important to the development of children at this level is being squeezed out by standards, accountability, assessment, performance,… The notion of “play” as an essential component to learning and developing critical models and mindsets is becoming a counter-narrative to that of current education policy.
So, I ask, what are the necessary conditions for critical, developmentally appropriate model development in children… and how do we go about protecting and promoting those?
Below are just some of the ideas that I processed while reading Papert’s introduction. I have come to realize that unless I do something active in the process of reading, I don’t get as much out of it. So, I’ll likely be doing a lot of mind-mapping as I read.