Popcorn kernels, clouds, and ripples-why play is important

photo of blue sky
Photo by Elia Clerici on Pexels.com

Full disclosure. I love magazines. The New Yorker. Vanity Fair. Time. Real Simple. In Style. But I especially love People. I don’t  read it in tiny little bursts at my dentist’s office or while I’m waiting in the grocery store checkout line. That’s right…I am an actual annual subscriber! It comes to my mailbox every Saturday, and then my whole family fights over it.

I especially like stories about Brangelina. Don’t ask me why. The new royal couple is pretty gripping as well.

Sometimes people are surprised to hear this about me. But it’s part of my reading life. It’s part of my choice as a reader. While I love reading books that challenge my thinking, my vocabulary, and my beliefs, honestly, I don’t want to read them all the time. I need to loosen up and let my brain wander. I need me a little Brangelina sometimes.

While I am mentioning this in reference to reading, and many teachers and fellow readers would admit that they have ‘guilty pleasures,’ taking breathers with our writing are just as vital.

I need quick bursts in my writer’s notebook as well as more sustained implosions where I allow my thoughts to flow freely. It’s fun to shape quick thoughts I have on a run or a hike, explore them more in a blog, and see where they go. I enjoy crafting my young adult novel, and I also like the writing I do along with my students, especially during genre studies and writer’s notebook practice. So many parts of writing are challenging, and I need to feed the creative, curious, wondering parts of my thinking. It helps me push through the hard stuff-the blockages, the frustration, the self-doubt. Playful writing is restorative, it is rejuvenating, and it is important.

Choice also feeds my writing life. If I was writing ‘classics’ all the time, if I kept writing analytical persuasive essays or informational pieces, it might feel like too much. I might  not even feel like writing any more. But if I choose to write a science fiction poem, or respond to some data about a seven pound hamburger they sell at the Arizona Cardinals stadium (it’s true: I read about it in Time), or attempt to imitate a passage from a John Green novel, it doesn’t feel like work. It feels like fun. And this playful approach often leads me to a topic I feel passionately about, whether it’s social justice, literacy, or Glacier National Park.

Sometimes my thoughts are like popcorn kernels exploding in the microwave, or like clouds dissipating into the sky, or like ripples in a pond. They are unruly, and I like it that way. It’s how I stretch and grow as a writer. I don’t ever want to lose them. I need to keep it loose. I need play. And so do my students.

water ripple
Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

Tight, precise writing is important, too, but it’s not everything, and it can limit or even stifle our thinking if overdone. Writing is thinking, as stated by many, many teachers and writers. Allowing kids to follow some, and actually, I would argue, MOST, of their own whimsical, playful trains of thought helps them see all the threads and possibilities in their own lives. It helps them see patterns in their thinking and their writing. It helps them understand that their words do not all have to be perfect right away. And, it empowers them to keep seeking, to keep playing, to keep questioning and wondering and remaining curious. 

I began my school year with a choice writing unit. It has gone well, and it is setting exactly the groundwork I would like it to: my students are taking risks, experimenting, and then crafting their unruly thoughts into something a little different, a little more polished. We’re practicing how we take our thoughts from kernels or clouds or ripples to words that move someone else. We’re not there yet, but this is good stuff. Choice is powerful. So is play.

I want to capture my thinking on this choice writing unit in another blog and will write about how I approached it this past month. I loved it. It stretched my teaching, my thinking,and my writing.  My students adjusted their expectations, realigned their thinking, and tried. That’s all I can ask.

Now it’s time for a little Real Simple!

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