A great read about why play is so important to building strong communities. This Saturday (April 27th) is Neighorday!

Playborhoods: Why Children Playing Street Games Is the Best Measure of a Healthy Neighborhood
Mike Lanza wrote in EducationLiving and Cities

Many decades ago, neighborhoods were bustling with life. They were also bustling with children playing in groups, with no adults supervising them. Today, most neighborhoods are dead boring, and it’s difficult, if not impossible, to find children playing in them.

All this is no mere coincidence. Children have always been the most prominent people in neighborhoods. In fact, in many ways, children have always acted as the catalysts for neighborhood life. In my childhood neighborhood in the Pittsburgh suburbs back in the 1960s and 70s, my activities with friends were constantly pulling my parents and my friends’ parents together. They’d call each other to discuss one kid eating or sleeping at another’s house, and then they’d end up chatting about other things.

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Hunter, J. (2013). World Peace and Other 4th-Grade Achievements. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

In World Peace and other 4th-Grade Achievements, author John Hunter writes about his experience in teaching students - fourth grade through high school - using “The World Peace Game” for the past thirty years. Hunter (2013) introduces his students to the “World Peace Game,” displayed on a 4ft by 4ft by 4ft plexiglass structure, where they encounter over 50 different world crisis situations, from climate change to conflict which they must attempt to resolve in order to win world peace. Students take on the role of world leaders - including prime ministers, cabinet members, United Nations representatives, tribal leaders, and arms dealers - and over the typical course of seven to eight weeks, they must find a way to work together and solve this imaginary world’s problems.

Hunter (2013) claims that this approach encourages students to engages in all three components of education: knowledge, creativity, and wisdom (p. 3 - 4). Unlike the more common banking model which focus on the “realm of precise answers and correct solutions” (p. 3), the World Peace Game also pushes students towards creativity and finally wisdom. Creativity goes beyond rote learning skills and engages learners with the information; they are no longer only the passive recipients of knowledge. Hunter states that, “we can’t just teach our children what we already know; we must also train them how to discover what is not yet known” (p. 4). This skill is vital in our education system because we need graduates who are prepared to tackle the responsibilities and challenges of the world. Knowledge is a foundation and creativity is a means of contextualizing that knowledge. Beyond this wisdom, which can be understood as the application of knowledge and creativity. Hunter speaks to the need to go beyond solely knowledge-based education in the appendix entitled The World Peace Game and “Teaching to the Test.” It is here that Hunter discusses the current emphasis in education on standardized testing. While acknowledging the importance of assessment, Hunter suggests other more inclusive and holistic means and discusses an example of the assessment style used for evaluation in the World Peace Game.

Readers might wonder if and how fourth grader students can really solve fifty world crisis and obtain world peace. The World Peace Game ask its young participants to take on issues that adults struggle with daily. By presenting these challenges to students, are we asking too much and overwhelming them with developmentally inappropriate obstacles. But if we protect our children from the realities of the world and delaying their experience until a later age, are we doing them a disservice and underestimating their abilities. Perhaps it is better to prepare our children as young as possible for the challenges their generation will be faced with addressing. Hunter (2013) suggests that it is important for students learn of war because it is the reality of our world. We can’t save our children from the experience of war by acting like it doesn’t exist. In order to obtain peace, we must know how to deal with war. Students should emerge with an education that prepares them for the reality of their world and with the skills they need be in that world; war is a part of that. We can look the solutions students discover - such as donating their collective surplus to a poor country to raise their assets and thus win the game - as simplistic and unrealistic or we can see the creativity and resourcefulness that is required of fourth graders to solve this complex problem. Although winning world peace in theory during a game is different than in real life, the purpose isn’t necessarily so that students learn how to bring about World Peace. We must also recognize the numerous other benefits to students who play.

Hunter (2013) appears to have been heavily influenced by his travel experiences as a young adult in India, China, and Japan and his parents - his mother, a teacher as well, and father while growing up under segregation. Hunter references these experiences heavily throughout the book. By taking a more passive role and giving students as much independence as possible to struggle, fail, and succeed, Hunter tried to limit the influence of his personal bias on the learning of his students. Hunter recounted an incident where an observe argued:

You should not be teaching them to use war or even letting them use war - don’t even go there in the first place! Peace is the right way for the world, and you should be teaching your students that and that alone (p. 127).

However, Hunter (2013) attempts to let students come to their own conclusions without imposing his own bias. This is one of the cornerstones of experiential education: allowing students to pursue their learning according to their interests and letting them learn from both their success and failure. Through the World Peace Game Hunter was able to produce a meaningful experience for his students while introducing them to important academic subjects and helping them develop meaningful life skills. From the World Peace Game students learn to work together and communicate and at the same time students must take on various leadership roles. Research and critical thinking are required for students to make informed decision about what actions they will take to win the game. Hunter’s writing asks us - as educators - to reevaluate what we believe to be our role as teachers and how we define our success in a classroom. Hunter wrote:

If I defined “success” as the imposition of my will on people and events, then obviously I had failed. But if I defined “success” as offering my student an opportunity to learn that he could use in his own time, then maybe I had not failed… Failure forces us to move away from results as our primary measure of “success” and toward evaluating ourselves based on process (p. 101).
On April 13th, I went to Richard Louv’s talk where he gave a short presentation, took questions, and signed books. Louv opened by talking about our relationship with nature - its importance and many benefits - and how our relationship with nature is changing. Louv spoke specifically about sustainability and how its connected with his work. Louv also discussed his work and hopes for the future.

Importance and Benefits of Nature
  • Interspecies interaction has many benefits for people - many studies have shown the calming effects that domestic pets have; the example of therapy dogs. The same could be said of relationships with wild animals in nature.
  • Nature is one of the few tools that can be used as both prevention and therapy in medicine
  • Glenn Albright has proposed that nature itself can provide protection from the psychological effects of climate change. Children are more likely to know the lost of nature before they ever have the chance to experience its beauty. In the future, how can we expect to raise a generation that will protect and conserve nature if they have never experienced its beauty first hand and not developed a relationship and appreciation for it
  • humans most preferred image is the landscape; specifically the savannah

Our changing relationship with nature

Louv says that there is a for hypervigilance and a time for mindfulness. We should not live in a constant fear hypervigilance. Relationships with nature might be based on fear rather than mindfulness and awareness.

Louv believes that sustainability is most often associated with energy efficiency - a sort of breaking even but conservation and sustainability is no longer enough. We must create new nature to counteract the effects of climate change and the human impact on the environment and biodiversity.

One example of “creating new nature” is the backyard wildlife habitat and the Homegrown National Parks movement by David Suzuki in Canada. These projects use native or native-like plants and human created micro-environments to support local wildlife; for example, bringing back butterfly migration routes.

In education

There is a need for more natural experience, as Louv discusses in his booksLast Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder and The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age

Louv expressed concern over the new trend of gamification - transforming education using video games. While this could get rid of testing as we know it (heavy focus on standardized testing), it would replace it with stealth monitoring; using ebooks to track how many pages students have read. While Louv emphasized that he is not anti-technology he advocates that for every dollar invested in technology we should put one into nature and nature education. “The more technology in our life, the more nature we need to keep the balance.”

The Future

Louv concluded on an optimistic note by encouraging us to focus on the positive. It’s about to talk about the struggles and injustices, but we must paint a picture of a world people want to go to. We must point to our ideals of what the world should and can be instead of what we don’t like. Using positive imagery rather than negative; rather than focusing on what we don’t want, we need to envision the world with the things we do want.