Don’t Forget to Play!

The following is based on remarks from our recent Gesher With a Twist “Style” event.

I am going to tell you a story that connects Purim, human evolution, play, fashion, and learning. Stay with me…

In 1999 Dr. Sugata Mitra, a professor at the University of Newcastle in the UK, began a series of experiments. He put hidden cameras in remotes villages and slums in India, and focused on them on a computer terminal that he had installed in a wall at the height of a young child. Within 3-6 months playing with these computers, children had taught themselves and each other how to use Microsoft Windows, how to access the internet, and how to read enough English to find and use websites that interested them. How?

Well, part of the answer lies in the incorrect idea that children are blank slates, awaiting adult instruction to write selected content on their young minds. In fact, we know that children are remarkable learning machines — they are sponges whose brains are designed to wire themselves according to the salient features of their environments — in many cases all they need is exposure and the opportunity to experiment.

The type of learning Dr. Mitra documented is the result of play. This is what old-fashioned schoolhouses were missing and what modern schools are beginning to understand – children are built to learn by playing, tinkering, and experimenting. We can not only get them to the same educational outcomes, we can blow through those old goals and get much deeper more lasting learning when we tap into their curiosity and sense of fun.

This is where Purim and style tie in to this story. Most adults are not engaged in play that often. Some lucky ones are, and it is one of the joys we can find in the field of professional education. In Judaism, when we dress up and make noise on Purim we are playing. When our faculty members came to Lord & Taylor to try on outfits together they were playing. Some of us incorrectly dismiss play or style as frivolous or a waste of time. It isn’t! We all learn through play, especially children, and we all need it in our lives.

I hope you take the opportunity to play and learn this coming Purim, and know that when you send your child to us or support Gesher, you are enabling us to move forward in our ability to creatively engage and educate Jewish children in Northern Virginia.

Shabbat Shalom, and Chag Purim Sameach,