“Play is our brain's favorite way of learning.”
In response to what we were seeing with the garden work, we wanted to give the children opportunities to explore these abstract ideas further and do so in a way that felt safe and playful. Research tells us that play is the child’s most natural and best learning strategy. Stuart Brown, author of Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, said, “Play energizes us and enlivens us. It eases our burdens. It renews our natural sense of optimism and opens us up to new possibilities.”
So this is what we set out to do. If we wanted to engage the children in meaningful conversations about good guys, bad guys, and different perspectives, we would need to invite them to play. We did this by inviting them to take their thinking about good guys and bad guys a step further by imagining who the characters were that might live in our magic seed world, the garden they had created from their imaginations. The children spent time imagining and drawing different kinds of characters and then choosing one to really spend some time with. As the children slowed down and zoomed in, they got to know these characters and the ways they would spend their time in magic seed world better and better. After weeks of working on these characters, they were ready to come to life! The day before Spring Break we planned a party in Opal 1 for the children’s characters to come together for the first time and meet each other.
As the children became very attached to these characters, spent lots of time playing with them, and continued to hold onto the idea of power, their thoughts about good guys and bad guys started to become less clear cut. The lines that seemed so clear initially, started to blur, and all of a sudden we were beginning to see a new kind of middle ground.
When we came back from Spring Break we asked the children to introduce their characters by telling us whether their character was a good guy or a bad guy and why. We got out a chart with two categories: good guy and bad guy. Immediately the children insisted we add a third.
Teacher: Ok, is your character a good guy or bad guy of magic seed world?
ZB: Or both. CM: Yeah, you need both.
Teacher: Both? What does that mean?
BV: It’s in the middle. Like kind of good and kind of bad.
ZB: Yeah, both like half good, half bad.
Teacher: Ok, or both.
A new category was added to the chart and the children proceeded telling us about their characters.
ZB: My character is 1/2 bad and ½. Every time he steals, he drops a coin in the bank so he doesn't get caught.
NJ: Mine is a good guy. He has a base that is really close to the bank so if any bad guy seeds try to get the seed bank he will stop them before they get to the seed bank.
LH: My guy is good. If somebody tries to steal someone’s building, my guy, he guards them. Because if they leave buildings up at magic seed world and we come back and it’s knocked down, then I build it back up and I guard it.
LD: My character is both. He helps other plants by protecting them from slugs so magic seed world will be safe for seeds.
AG: I think that’s a good guy.
LD: He helps weeds go over other plants too.
CN: Both. I think he saws down bad guys but he blasts through good guys at the speed of light.
BV: Both, because he helps the plants grow because he helps with the soil of some sort. But also for the bad guys, he steals stuff. The crystals. They could be money too. And he robs anything that he wants.
RR: Both. Because it eats stuff. It’s hungry and it will eat all these other characters. If these don't want them to get eat, it asks them to get food. It asks people to bring it food if they don't want to get eat.
Both? We hadn’t talked about that before. What did both actually mean? The children had invented this new category and showed us really clearly this day that they were reconsidering their own assumptions of “bad guys.” If we had asked this question just a few weeks earlier, I’m confident this conversation would have gone differently. This is what playing with perspective looked like. What a way to start! Both. (I love that!) Because really, aren’t we all both sometimes?