Self-Initiation is a Game Changer

One of the more distinct elements of Miquon culture is our insistence on referring to the time not spent in more structured activity with a class group or specialist choice rather than recess. It is not simply a semantic difference. The time spent by the 10 – 12 year olds in our building, between 10:30 and 11:00 and then again between 12:15 and 12:45, is a critically important part of their experience from a learning perspective. It’s not a break; it’s a continuation.

Self-initiated activity (“choice”) is a critical piece of the definition of play. It is also — and not coincidentally — the condition under which learning happens best. When any person works to learn something or to figure something out because he or she needs to in order to accomplish something else that he or she wants (vs because someone else said that the skill is needed), that skill or information is most readily and meaningfully absorbed. This is true whether it is specific content, a physical skill, an interpersonal insight, etc. Uninvited instruction, on the other hand, often bounces right off of us. Maybe that material has been “covered,” but if there was no individual investment or perceived need, the chance of absorption is greatly reduced.

And so with that in mind, here are just a few photos to illustrate some of the choice activities one morning this past week. None of this activity was suggested, informed, or requested by an adult. All of it involved deep engagement, and in many cases, problem solving between peers. I was indoors where these things were occurring, and I happened to have a camera handy when I was struck by the power of what I saw going on all around me.

Oh, to bring ever more of this kind of self-direction into every part of our day at Miquon. It is ever present in the nursery and kindergarten, but we in school (and at home?) can lose sight of it as children get older — and even in our own lives. We highlight self-directed learning through Life Skills 101 projects and Personal Projects, through child-directed book group presentations, through inviting children’s voices in so much of our curriculum design. Yet none of it quite reaches the power of choice. And for that we turn to “Choice Time” — even as we continue to ask ourselves how to realize it more fully across more of our time together. How much self-directed, self-initiated time do you get? How about your children?