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Play, Passion, and Purpose

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Earlier this fall, the faculty and staff met to discuss the book we read over the summer, Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success by Madeline Levine. Our discussions centered on broadening our definition of success and thinking about how children develop self-efficacy. Levine makes the case for unstructured play, something CDS believes in and practices in the early childhood program and in the elementary program. According to Dr. Levine, “it is unstructured play that stimulates imagination, and it is imagination that is the underpinning of creativity, and, ultimately, innovation. Taken together, these are the exact skills most likely to be sought after in the twenty first century global economy.”  Yet convincing parents that unstructured play is more important to a child’s social competence than membership on a sports team or swim, dance, marshal arts, or (fill in the blank) lessons seems challenging for schools.  Worried parents are focusing on academics beyond the school day, to be sure that their child is getting ahead in reading, writing and arithmetic and schools have seen the number of students receiving after school tutoring skyrocket in recent years. How do we encourage parents to rethink family time and not to over program their children?

Interestingly, soon after CDS choose Teach Your Children Well as the all school read for the summer of 2013, we received word that Tony Wagner would be speaking at our school in October of 2013. He is the first innovation education fellow at the Technology and entrepreneurship Center at Harvard and author of Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World. He believes that play is the work of early childhood, passion is the work of the elementary and middle school student and that purpose is the work of adults. His Ted Talk on "Play, Passion and Purpose" is available at

As it turns out, not only is purpose the work of adults, having purpose may keep us healthier as adults. According to a recent article in The New York Times (see link below), our genes can tell the difference between a purpose driven life and a shallower one even when our conscious minds cannot. People whose primary goal is consuming things had relatively high levels of biological markers known to promote increased inflammation while people whose happiness was based on a sense of higher purpose and service to others had higher levels of anti-body producing gene expressions and lower levels of the pro-inflammatory expression. 

As a faculty we have spent some time researching and thinking about how our students develop and what matters.

How much screen time is too much?  At what point are your child’s electronic devices interfering with his or her childhood? This article in The New York Times provides food for thought.