I have a little friend named Lee. He’s five years old. He doesn’t go to school right now, but he’s a smart kid. He sees the world as a puzzle to be explored, broken down and put together again.
Lee is a middle child. His older brother is nine, and his younger brother is one. He doesn’t have the responsibility of his older brother, and he’s not as big as him. Sometimes, his older brother calls Lee stupid. Lee’s younger brother can’t communicate well yet. He’s one. Lee has become a sort of de facto translator for his younger brother. The three brothers don’t get as much play time as they would like, but what kid does nowadays? The world is a scary place. Of course parents want to protect their children. It’s difficult for everyone.
I’ve been trying my best to teach Lee whatever I can. Most of his days are highly scheduled, and he gets bored easily. He doesn’t read when he’s told to read, he doesn’t practice math when he’s told to practice math. He would rather be drawing and telling stories. Last week, he told me the story of Peter and the Wolf. His version ended with the townspeople being angry at Peter because he made a mistake. I told him the version of the story where Peter gets eaten by the wolf, and the townspeople are feel the agony of guilt over his death.
Today, the sun was out for the first time in Maryland for about a week. I’m brown skinned, so I need more sun to get enough vitamin D. Plus, I just really like the feeling of the sun on my skin. Lee’s dad was showing Lee’s older brother some exercises- the older boy wants to play football in the fall. Lee was tagging along, but wasn’t getting any attention. He started getting in the way, and Lee’s dad and older brother were getting frustrated. I decided to show Lee what his dad was showing his brother (I taught Lee’s dad a lot about exercise, and he’s taught me a lot too.) I showed Lee how to do push-ups. He wasn’t good at it, and wanted to quit. He said, “I can’t do it. I’ll never be able to do it.” I told him that there’s nothing in the world you can’t do. Even if it was a lie, it’s what he needed to hear. Because he can do many things, even things that I can’t.
When Lee started to get bored he switched to trying to show me things around the yard. He grabbed some loose paving stones and some small rocks, and began smashing the rocks into powder. I decided to join him. I showed him an easier way to smash rocks than what he was doing. He adopted it. I showed him how to mix the pulverized rock with a little bit of water, and dipped my finger in the paste. Then I began to paint. His face lit up. We then grabbed some chalk he had lying around. I told him that chalk is a rock, too. He didn’t believe me, so I showed him a picture of the Cliffs of Dover on my phone. We smashed the chalk just the same as we had the rocks. We had different colors now. This is what we painted.
Animals learn through play. Not just functional skills, like hunting or avoiding predators, but their brain literally grows faster as a result of play. Humans are animals. Therefore, humans develop their brains, at least in part, through play.
Animals do not like to be forced into doing anything. Humans do not like to be enslaved. Humans do not like to be imprisoned. Humans do not like to be marginalized. Humans do not like to be lied to. Children are humans in beta testing, before the upload their cultural software from their environment. If you look at children, and try to understand them, you are really trying to understand human nature.
If you want to hear more, go here:
https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/so-you-think-you-know-why-animals-play/ (a super condescending, but nonetheless informative article)