Work and play can be the same thing

I think I’ve written before about the relationship between work and play that a lot of people believe in very firmly. I may have written about it embarrassingly recently, but I have a terrible memory and I don’t feel like checking, because I’m really looking forward to talking about it now!

One of the biggest differences between going to school and not going to school is that when you go to school you have the summer off. Which sounds pretty great, right? Having a couple free months to do whatever you want. (Not that this always happens– plenty of kids I knew growing up were shipped off to camps and summer school programs.)

When you learn outside of school, there are no breaks.

And I don’t mean that like “You will sit there and work on that calculus until you memorize every single rule in the book. I don’t care if it takes you a year.”

I mean, life isn’t structured in terms of work and non-work, effort and relaxation. These things blend together.

Last night, I was on a call with Clark Aldrich, Lisa Nielsen, and Monika Hardy. We were talking with Steve Hargadon about unschooling. (Here’s his Future of Education site, where Ken Robinson was also interviewed! Yes! I feel famous!) One of the listeners commented in the chat box that homeschooling  might not work very well, because what kid wants to learn when they could be watching TV? What kid wants to do work when they could be playing?

Bear has made this comment to me, too, when we talk about homeschooling our eventual kids. He remembers getting home from school and not feeling like doing any work at all. Home is a place where you chill out. Where you hang out. Where you get your homework done as fast as possible, so you can play a video game. Or you play the video game as long as possible until someone yells at you to do your homework.

But for me, home was a place where work and play were often exactly the same thing. And where summer wasn’t an end or a beginning, but rather a continuation of all of the things I was doing anyway.

Learning is a constant process. We can’t help but learn.

When people talk about improving education and keeping students at the proper level for their age, they talk about how kids who read a lot over the summer do much better when they return to school in the fall. So schools tend to have summer reading programs (once my brothers and I participated in one at our local library. We had an amazing time). Keeping kids engaged academically over the summer is a serious challenge that schools faced. So much is lost over that period, teachers and administrators lament.

In college, I was always completing assignments or memorizing flashcards, and I couldn’t wait for summer. During the summer, I would try to write a book. I would remember what it felt like to work on something for fun. I would dread, very gently at the back of my mind, the beginning of the new semester. Not because I hated being in class so much (sometimes it was a lot of fun), but because it’s practically impossible not to learn that you’re supposed to look forward to summer and regard classes with irritation. It’s practically impossible not to learn that work and play are separate activities that chase one another in a never-ending cycle, caught in a dichotomous, dependant loop.

We forget sometimes that you have to be taught that that loop exists. Because otherwise, it doesn’t.

(My friend Elena in front of some work/play in action in NYC)

*  *  *

P.S. Brazen Careerist asked me to write a piece for them about college, and why it might not be the best idea ever. Maybe because they know I’m willing to say things that will really annoy people? Anyway, if you feel like reading it, click here.

P.P.S. The piece is not my favorite piece. I think the argument should be more complicated than I had time to make it. So maybe I wouldn’t annoy as many people if I had another chance :)

P.P.P.S Is it really wimpy to put a disclaimer like that?

11 comments to Work and play can be the same thing

  • Marina

    People who think that left to their own devices, anyone would choose to do something mindless all day every day, don’t have a very high opinion of humanity. Geniuses and interesting people throughout history weren’t forced to do the interesting things they did… I think pursuing interesting things is an inescapable part of being human. At least when we’re not exhausted from being in an institution all day.

  • Val

    Over the years I noticed how many things the kids do in a day could be counted for school–educational, constructive, you know.

    It’s a lot! They go to bed late in the evening, get up middle of the morning, and sometimes they want to work in workbooks, but if they don’t, that’s okay too.

    It’s nice to have the luxury of time because what it’s really taught me to do the most is trust.

    Now we’ve got Tim who is dyslexic and has been slow to learn to read, observing the hundreds of interesting-looking books in the book cases around here. Today he told me, “When I can read, I’m going to be busy reading ALL these books.”

    You go for it, Buddy.

    Love your blog–it’s lovely to have the direct experience to tell us how it is. I appreciate that very much.

    love, Val

  • Dana

    Hi Kate,

    I am 24 years old and have never been to any kind of school. I discovered your blog several months ago and have been reading it delightedly ever since (but have never commented ’til now — yay comments!).

    I really like the title of this post, but I wish you had talked more about how work and play being the same thing affect your life as an adult. Yeah, there was no such things as “vacation” or “schoolwork” when I was a kid (“I’m never in school but I’m always in school!” I would tell people happily).

    But what happens when you become an adult and you have a job? I feel like the stuff I do that I don’t get paid for doing is often just as (or more) important than the stuff I get paid for. It’s all Stuff I Do, which makes it equally awesome. But the rest of the world doesn’t really see it that way, I think. I would love to hear your thoughts on this adult-unschooler worldview (I wasn’t gonna say “adult-unschooler syndrome” — that makes it sound like a disease).

    Thanks for sharing all the awesome thoughts you share with us!

    Dana in VT

    • kate

      Hey Dana!

      Thanks for the comment!

      I think, as an unschooler, I learned to value my own time a lot, and care a lot about doing things that made me feel fulfilled. So now, as an adult, I’m finding work that makes me feel like I’m not working. I love my job as a lay cantor, and I love writing, which I do professionally, and also as a hobby. It’s not the case that everyone can find a job that pays the bills and feels fulfilling. I wish that were the case. But the homeschoolers I know seem to try really, really hard to find just that. And even if you can’t have that every moment or month or year of your life, you can usually get there eventually. Or you can make decisions that prioritize that lifestyle, no matter what.

      Was that too vague? I feel like I should write an entire post on this now… :)

  • Dana

    You SHOULD write an entire post on this! But no, that’s a good broad answer. Kinda how I feel too.

    I think, because we’re not exposed to the school/play dichotomy, we end up with different priorities around work as adults. I care less about how much I get paid and how many hours I have and whether I have an important title and more about if I’m having fun and if they’ll let me set my own schedule and take random weeks off to go on trips and rearrange the office furniture and rearrange the job itself. It confuses people you work for sometimes. :)

    I feel like I am also easily frustrated by having to work certain hours on certain days: what if I’d rather climb a mountain than go to work that day? Oh well. I am also easily bored by “vacations” and “weekends”: long periods of just sitting around doing nothing make me feel irritated, not relaxed. I don’t get how people go on a trip and lie on a beach and do nothing. Seriously? Weird.

    So, I guess unschooling has left me a little bit “spoiled” about time and doing what I want, and has also given me insight about what I really want to be doing and really love that a lot of adults don’t figure out ’til later in life.

    Yeah! Write another post on work and play as an adult unschooler!

  • The distinction between summer and school year can happen with home-schoolers too wedded to a curriculum, though. I was recently reading some facebook comments to my daughter about just how ready some homeschoolers were for summer to be here.

    Her response, “Summer! Why would they be glad it was summer, summer is hot!” (we live in a desert). We are unschoolers, and I just tell people we do a year round school. My kids are happy with what they are doing anytime of the year. The seasons are more distinguished by temperature and available outdoor activities than school work :).

    BTW, I don’t consider TV watching mindless. My kids learn a lot from watching TV and playing video games. The key is to do those sorts of things with your kids at least some of the time. Value what they value, and you will see the good in them.

  • Great post! I think about this a lot because I seem to have a problem with dividing things into work and non-work. But at the same time I am also a sucker for structure and having a hard time just flowing (which I imaging you do) from one activity to another. When I was a child, I sometimes stayed home sick from school, when I wasn’t because I had so many things I wanted to do at home, like writing letters and short stories, paint, read and just making things in general. I never didn’t do anything and I probably learnt loads from it. Luckily, I never had to fool my mum because she approved and let me have the time off.

  • Hey Kate,
    I am a mother to 2 homeschooling boys (12 and 16 ).Great reading your blog and I found that it is helpful for me to arrange strategy for my sons. Please write more on how homeschooling life effect you in your career. All of us know that homeschooling life is tend to relax and doing things in our own phase. Beside that please write on what you want or what you will do if you are homeschool your own kids based on your own experience.

  • […] It’s kind of a long speech, actually. And it might not be that expertly crafted after all. I wrote a post about these ideas here. […]

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