Use a compass instead of a map

In an episode of Workman (one of my favorite Korean variety shows), they went to a daycare and through that episode, I found out that they rearranged their education system for kindergarteners.

They adapted child-centered education wherein children are free to do and follow their curiosities in the daycare. They can play an instrument, play with toys available in the classroom, they could read a book, etc. Also, I don’t feel that “classroom” is even the right term for their space because it doesn’t look like a classroom at all.

This overall system promotes creativity as well as it builds up this confidence within the kid. In here, teachers do not say “sit still” or “behave”. Rather they encourage them to follow their desires and whatever they found interesting. They aren’t taught to score well during exams or be the best among the block. They promote communal activities (playing games with the whole class) and just being.

Honestly, even I think that kids as young as them should not take exams as soon as they have to go to school/daycare. They are too young to just sit still and I think the best thing that a school can instill in a child is to love learning. As they grow older and started taking exams, they will remember that how you do in a exam is not related to how much you learned.

I hope this could be applied to higher education as well. Personally, I am interested in psychology, biology, history, and journalism. I am currently in architecture program and I hope that there would be ways in which I could take up courses from other programs. Unfortunately, that does not exist yet lol

What I found interesting among a lot of master designers is that they integrates various subjects into their work. Some have took courses from other programs (ex. Steve Jobs), there are others who took up science programs but shifted to a design-related program, etc. Basically, they have knowledge on other subjects and that’s how they are able to design what they are designing right now.

In connection to everything I read, a few months ago this is what I started practicing: I used my hobbies, interests, and desires as my compass and disregarded the “map.” The map is pertaining to the pre-ordained life that society expects me to follow.

Since then, I never felt guilty of not following “the map”, I went my own path, following my inner soul. I read about psychology a lot, I read essays about creativity, I read novels, I read fiction and non-fiction, I write, etc. Anything that I found interesting or what I am curious in, I just follow it. And I never felt so happy and satisfied. Everyday I will learn something new. Gosh. If there is just any option to design my own curriculum, I would. And I would design it in a way that is filled with courses that I am interested in.

Srivinas Rao, author of The Art of Being Unmistakable, wrote about kindergartens and using a compass,

Kindergarten classrooms are utter chaos and true genius at the same time. The potential to discover a calling is available every single day. Then something happens. Somebody decided that you might stray too far off the beaten path, and gives you a map. They decide what is important for your future and these decisions become the destinations on the map.

….However, if I want to do interesting work, take risks, and see what I am really made of, I have to be willing to use a compass instead of a map.

Promoting self-learning and using a compass, allows each and everyone of us to just be ourselves. This is what I missed the most during summer breaks, it is when I just learn things without having to be graded for it.

And if you have been reading my previous posts, I mentioned this quote a few times now but it is amazing how each and every time I wrote this quote, I have something new to add. This is basically how curiosity starts, it starts as a small idea and over time as you search and search, you would have a lot of things related to it already and this is just basically it. This means that I am following my compasses very well.

Here is the quote from Austin Kleon:

“The lives of great thinkers teach us that learning is the verb of life. The trick to lifelong learning is to exercise your curiousity as much as you can and to let it guide you where it wants to go. To pay attention to what you pay attention to. To not worry too much about where things are going to lead. To learn for learning’s sake, not because it’s going to get you something, necessarily, but because you have faith that the things that interest you will help you become who you need to be.

Your interest and your desire and your instincts are your compass. They show you the way.

It’s a hard things to internalize, but once you do, it’s one of the most powerful things. It sets you free.”

What Kids Can Teach Us

[I am aware that I write about kids like most of the time but, honestly, there is just so much to read and learn from them (or who we once were) that we should not forget as adults as we grow older.]

Austin Kleon (author of Steal Like An Artist) brings his kid to a museum because, ” [kids] will make you rethink what’s interesting and what’s art. (After all, what are cars but fast, colorful, kinetic sculptures?) This, of course, should be the point of museums: to make us look closer at our everyday life as a source of art and wonder.” Also, if you don’t have a kid, he advises you to borrow one. “Borrow a kid. Spend some time trying to see through their eyes. You will discover new things.

Corita Kent and Jan Steward wrote in the book, Learning By Heart, “For so many years we have been learning to judge and dismiss — I know what that thing is — I’ve seen it a hundred times — and we’ve lost the complex realities, laws, and details that surround us. Try looking the way the child looks—as if always for the first time—and you will, I promise, feel wider awake.”

John Baldessari noted, “I learned so much about art from watching a kid draw. I taught at the grade-school level. Kids don’t call it art when they’re throwing things around, drawing—they’re just doing stuff.”

I interviewed a schoolmate about her art teaching experience and she mentioned that the best students she had are kids. Because, she noticed, kids do not complain. They just simply do the work.

Elizabeth Gilbert wrote about the musician Tom Waits in her book, Big Magic, “Waits had once been the opposite of that as a creator. He told me that he’d struggled deeply with his creativity in his youth because—like many serious young men—he wanted to be regarded as important, meaningful, heavy. He wanted his work to be better than other people’s work. He wanted to be complex and intense. There was anguish, there was torment, there was drinking, there were dark nights of the soul…

But through watching his children create so freely, Waits had an epiphany: It wasn’t actually that big a deal. He told me, “I realized that, as a songwriter, the only thing I really do is make jewelry for the inside of other people’s minds.” Music is nothing more than decoration for the imagination. That’s all it is. That realization, Waits said, seemed to open things up for him. Songwriting became less painful after that.”

Earlier in the book, Gilbert wrote, “Over the years, Tom Waits finally found his sense of permission to deal with his creativity more lightly—without so much drama, without so much fear. A lot of this lightness, Waits said, came from watching his children grow up and seeing their total freedom of creative expression. He noticed that his children felt fully entitled to make up songs all the time, and when they were done with them, they would toss them out “like little origami things, or paper airplanes.” Then they would sing the next song that came through the channel. They never seemed to worry that the flow of ideas would dry up. They never stressed about their creativity, and they never competed against themselves; they merely lived within their inspiration, comfortably and unquestioningly.

And my main point here is to relax. I meant this for myself and to anyone struggling and stressing about creating. There is this belief going on that “You have to suffer greatly in order to create something great.” (A lot of people concluded this after observing that a lot of whom we consider great artists suffered a lot while creating their masterpieces.) But like the epiphany of Tom Waits, creating doesn’t have to be so serious and dramatic that you have to compromise your physical, spiritual, and mental health.

When I was around 14, I wanted to write a novel. However, I get stressed a lot that I can’t find the perfect idea, the perfect plot, that it would not be popular anyways, and that I’m not experienced enough. But if I could talk it out to my younger self, I would say, just write. Yes, at first, it would not be easy. But the perfect plot will not come, just write what you can write. (Somehow, I am just grateful that I went through this kind of experience because of that, I am able to grow, learn, and improve myself or better yet, learned to re-connect with the kid inside me.)

Similar to when we were kids, we just draw and we just write. Want to write? We just write. Want to draw? We just draw. And writing or drawing something, we just set it aside and eventually, our parents are gonna throw it. Then, off we go to another thing that we want to write or draw. We just create so easily when we were young and somewhere along the way, we restrict ourselves. I made it hard for myself to just create something by rejecting the idea as soon as it was born and telling myself, “Its not worth it anyway.”

But that is not the point. The point is to create. The point is to do what keeps you alive and not rejecting yourself of an adventure. Just creating for the sake of doing just like when we were a kid. Just like in the book The Little Prince, we must not forget how we were as kids or else we might be very, very odd grownups.

Work is Play

After writing a series of articles for my school publication, I came to the realization that the whole time I was writing those articles, I felt like I was playing. The word ‘play’ came first in my mind to describe how I felt but afterwards, I did not think that work can become play or I just thought its weird. So I just let that thought go.

Eventually, I remembered something from Austin Kleon (author of Steal Like An Artist) about work is play. “Play is the work of the child and it is also the work of the artist. I was once taking a walk in the Mission in San Francisco and stopped to chat with a street painter. When I thanked him for his time and apologized for interrupting his work, he said, “Doesn’t feel like work to me. Feels more like play”” write Austin Kleon in Keep Going. “The great artists are able to retain this sense of playfulness throughout their careers. Art and the artist both suffer most when the artist gets too heavy, too focused on results.”

Why adults need to play

The reason the word ‘play’ came to my mind to describe how I felt is mostly because I know what play feels like (I frequently play board games with my community) and I am interested in the study of play and I read a lot about it. So first, what is play?

Kristin Wong wrote in an article entitled How To Add More Play to Your Grown-Up Life about play, “Play is something that’s imaginative, self-directed, intrinsically motivated and guided by rules that leave room for creativity.”

Wong asked Jeff Harry, according to her, is “a positive play coach who works with organizations to use applied positive psychology, why play is important especially for adults. “Adults spent a lot of time ruminating, whether it’s thinking about the dumb thing you said at a party or worrying just for the sake of worrying.” He continues, “Think about how kids are excited all the time. That is basically what we’re all trying to get back to.” Wong noted that play is great for our overall well-being. “There are number of benefits to play for adults including improved stress management and an improvement in our overall well-being—benefits that we could certainly use right now.”

So what I’m getting here is, isn’t it amazing if work can be play too? And also, the fact that I enjoy writing so much just for the sake of doing it and not for external outcomes made me feel similar to how I feel when I play. Something that will not get me all worked up and stressed but rather transcending and just pure bliss while doing it. Tony Fitzpatrick said it best, “Writing is hard fucking work, but it’s not labor.” It gets me all excited having to understand why am I feeling that way because I am knowing myself more. I will spend much more time doing it (but, ofcourse, not to the point of extreme exhaustion) for the sake of my mental health and my sanity.

Going back to the article, Jeff Harry advises to adults, “… take a small break from worrying and do something that channels your inner kid and just beings you a little bit of happiness.” In addition, Austin Kleon advises, “If you’ve lost your playfulness, practice for practice’s sake. You don’t have to go to such dramatic lengths as combustion. Musicians can jam without making a recording. Writers and artists can type or draw out a page and throw it away. Photographers can take photos and immediately delete them.”

Such play can be frivolous but, honestly, looking back at the past years, I’m so glad that I spent a lot of time playing board games with my family and my community. In retrospect, I can say that I live a happy life these past few years. I got anxious a lot and such thoughts are set aside whenever I play. While playing, I stayed in the present, made platonic relationships, and shared joy with others. I think only in retrospect can we actually see the benefits of play.

[For some, work or their job is not play but it is their means to afford their needs or to provide for their family. And that’s okay. There a lot of opportunities where one can play outside of their job. Just do it every now and then. I promise, it’s worth it.]

No to Throwaway Culture: Products that Are Intentionally Designed to Last Long

In an era wherein users are encouraged to constantly buy products that are new and innovative today but next year, those same brands release another set of products with better technical specifications than the previous ones, so what we do is to buy again and throw away what we had previously bought and so on.

Many designers today had realized that the throwaway culture and designing products with an intent to only last for a certain time frame or had cause users a lot of money every year and creating more waste in this world.

I came across four products that are intentionally designed to last for decades. I highly recommend these products for starting families.

Furniture: bekind.

bekind is a Norwegian furniture brand, where their brand name is also a conscious mindset. Their bekind mindset enables them to,

“…build furniture for generations – creating a sustainable world of furniture – free from a throw-away mentality. Earth conscious lifestyle starts at home – with small things. 

They have two products: bekind.EINS and bekind.ZWEI.

Source: bekind Kickstarter page

Source: bekind Kickstarter page

Both of these products have a lot of affordances, meaning they could be used in various ways. Bekind.EINS could be a chair for children or a stool for adults. On the other hand, bekind.ZWEI can be seating for both adults and children and it can also function as a table.

With their versatility, users will never have to worry about buying pieces of furniture once they or their children will grow out of it.

Fashion/School Supply: Bag

The Japanese backpack: facts and origins of the randoseru
Source: Go Go Nihon

Randoseru is a result of an idea to end comparison and wealth advantage in classrooms. On an island with limited resources, it was important for Japanese people to consume things in moderation. Hence, they intentionally design products that last for years.

One example of that is Randoseru. It is a bag used by students throughout their six years in primary school and passing it down to a younger sibling. Randoseru bags are known throughout the country for its durability and great quality. The trend started in 1887 after the crown prince of that time wore it t school. Until now, Japanese students still use Randoseru bags to school. Even with all these new school bags from the West, Japanese people still choose to buy randoseru.

Product: Hanger

Source: Ensu Design

One problem for a growing family is the need to buy various kinds of hanger for various type of clothing (ex. hangers for kids’ clothes, hanger for working clothes and at-home clothes, etc)

Source: Ensu Design

Well, here is Mozu Hanger. This hanger suits most types of clothing and various occasions as well. Its slim profile makes it suitable for suitcases when you are constantly traveling abroad and allows more space in the closet. Its form eliminates the hassle of buying baby hangers as well as the act of stretching the collars just to take the clothes off the hanger.

 

Integrating Nooks Into School Designs

When I was a kid, I love to play under a table. I imagine that the table, where I am under in, is my house. Under the table, I could take on whatever roles I wanted: a mother, chef, teacher, bank teller, and a businesswoman. Together with my peers, we would imagine that the table is either a castle or a mansion. For most kids, they felt the same way but not necessarily under a table. Kids, today, create makeshift tents out of blankets or use a playhouse to execute their role play ideas.

Apparently, architects today had integrated playhouses or little nooks into their school designs.

The new Sandy Hook School has playhouses, or what they call tree houses, in various areas of the school. Jay Brotman, managing partner of Svigals + Partners explained that this is one of their efforts to, “…encourage compassion, prosperity, collaboration, and joy.” These small spaces allow young children to collaborate with each other.

In Japan, AN Kindergarten has little reading nooks shaped like playhouses are at the center of the space. Little nooks are located on the glass balustrades, independently standing on the ground floor, and even under the stairs. They added these features into the design as the architects explained, “In recent years, when children’s physical ability and creativity have been decreased, we expect that they can start improving by setting a variety of playgrounds indoors at different places.

Flower Kindergarten by Jungmin Nam
Flower Kindergarten | © Kyungsub Shin

Flower Kindergarten in Seoul, South Korea has a similar play den under the stairs. Architect Jungmin Nam, head of OA Lab (the studio that designed that school), said that “The stair itself becomes a playground. The space created below and above the stair is utilized as a children’s play den at children’s scale.”

Aside from being a place where collaborative play and learning can thrive, playhouses or little nooks are where children can do free play. Free play is an act where anyone who plays will not be intervened by an authoritative figure.

Why are playhouses and even as simple as makeshift tents out of blankets are loved by kids

From the book, Raising Curious, Creative, Confident Kids: The Pestalozzi Experiment in Child-Based Education, principal and author Rebeca Wild wrote,

“Playhouse provides a place for secret games and undisturbed conversations in an atmosphere of privacy.”

She explained further why playhouses are important,

“In such a prepared environment that offers many stimulating attractions but excludes the possibility of any pressure exercised by adults, it becomes surprisingly clear that each and every child, provided that it has no severe disturbances owing to disrespectful or inattentive treatment, possesses a clear inner direction or guiding force, as it were. This is what leads the child in its choice of activities [free play], makes it possible for the child to find its own rhythm and allows the child to achieve a new balance with each new activity, if permitted to– follow this inner directive force, the child is able to act and react as a self-confident, happy, and helpful human being, despite its tender age and to enjoy each day to the fullest.”

Lastly, “Even at only three or four years of age, many have lost confidence in their own inner direction as a result of the constant intervention and know-it-all behavior of the adults who love them. Some may not even had the complete love and attention of their parents when they came into the world. The purpose of which is to enable them to have basic truth and confidence in life itself.

Playhouses provide children an opportunity to do their own choice of activities without being intervened by an adult. In little reading nooks, children can read and even talk about the book that they are reading to their peers without being conscious of an authoritative figure (if they were in a library). They could even role-play the books that they read, using the little nooks as their backdrop.

What if young students aren’t given an environment where they can play freely?

Author and psychologist Peter Gray wrote in an article entitled The Culture of Childhood: We’ve Almost Destroyed It,

“By increasing the amount of time spent in school, expanding homework, harping constantly on the importance of scoring high on school tests, banning children from public spaces unless accompanied by an adult, and replacing free play with adult-led sports and lessons, we have created a world in which children are almost always in the presence of a supervisor, who is ready to intervene, protect, and prevent them from practicing courage, independence, and all the rest that children practice best with peers, away from adults.  I have argued elsewhere (Gray, 2011, and here) that this is why we see record levels of anxietydepressionsuicide, and feelings of powerlessness among adolescents and young adults today.

In conclusion, rather than writing little nooks or playhouses must be integrated into school designs, designing spaces where children can play without an intervening adult, and a space that has a lot of affordances (ways for it to be used) are a must. Designing spaces where kids can grow holistically is an investment for a better world tomorrow.

 

References:

Frearson, A. (2016, February). Flower Kindergarten by Jungmin Nam features curvy classrooms and colourful corridors. Retrieved from Dezeen: https://www.dezeen.com/2016/02/26/flower-kindergarten-oa-lab-curvy-colourful-classrooms-seoul-south-korea/

Gray, P. (2016, October 31). The Culture of Childhood: We’ve Almost Destroyed It. Retrieved from Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/freedom-learn/201610/the-culture-childhood-we-ve-almost-destroyed-it

Wild, R. (2000). Raising Curious, Creative, Confident Kids: The Pestalozzi Experiment in Child-based Education. Shambhala.

Winston, A. (2016, March). Hibino Sekkei and Youji no Shiro’s kindergarten features house-shaped reading nooks. Retrieved from Dezeen: https://www.dezeen.com/2016/03/03/hibino-sekkei-youji-no-shiro-atsugi-nozomi-kindergarten-house-shaped-reading-nooks-kanagawa-prefecture-japan/

Yalcinkaya, G. (2017, October). New Sandy Hook school is designed to “prevent unwanted intrusions of any kind”. Retrieved from Dezeen: https://www.dezeen.com/2017/10/26/new-sandy-hook-school-designed-prevent-unwanted-intrusions-kind-news-architecture/

 

Why Do We Need To Play Even As Adults

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“The opposite of play is not work. It’s depression.” – Stuart Brown

Anji Play
© Anji Play Website

I watched one of an episode of Abstract of Design S2. The episode is all about play. I remembered in the book Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness written by Ingrid Fetell Lee, one chapter is dedicated to play.

Stuart Brown, the founder of the National Institute for Play, had been tasked to study convicted murderers of the Texas prison system– searching if there were factors that they had in common to understand what makes a person susceptible to violent behavior. Surprisingly, after a comprehensive review of the inmates’ lives and interviewed their families and friends, they found out that they have something in common. “Nearly all of these violent offenders had deficient or deviant play histories,” said Brown to author Ingrid Fetell Lee during their conversation.

There were inmates who experience abuse from their parents during their childhood. Some lack social experiences. To sum it up, their childhood lacks play.

Lee wrote, “Play let us practice give-and-take, through which we learn empathy and fairness it also promotes flexible thinking and problem-solving, which increase our resilience and help us adapt to change. When we play, our awareness of time diminishes, and our self-state, which allows us to let go of everyday worries and be absorbed in the joy of the moment.”

It makes sense that the lack of play in children these past few years had lead to a rise in narcissism, anxiety, and depression among children these days. Peter Gray, a psychologist who studies play, shared in his TED talk, “We have become a worse world for kids.” Instead of letting them play freely, most parents keep their kids occupied by letting them use their gadgets most of the time.

Going back to the episode of Abstract of Design entitled Cas Holman: Design for Play, designer Cas Holman concluded that most toys today are designed to keep children occupied. I looked back at the toys that I used to play when I was younger but are now sitting idly on display on our shelves. The toys that I own are close-ended; they only had one way (or four ’cause we never really know what is the limit of a kid’s imagination) to play it. These type of toys is something to keep us occupied and not stimulate our imagination. Many of these get thrown every year.

Cas Holman's Search for the Ideal Playground | The New Yorker
© Netflix

Cas Holman’s works are different. She does not label her works as toys because the word ‘toy’ is associated to the word ‘frivolous’ in which her works are far from that. Her works are for both kids and adults. It engages, unexpectedly has the power to get users into the flow. There is no one way to play it. Users can make anything that they want as much as where their imaginations take them. Above all, by giving users an opportunity to create something, it provides confidence to users– something that toys today fail to give.

Rigamajig is a group of materials used in constructing something in real life. These objects are enlarged with all edges curved such as large bolts and nuts, large pulley, and long plywood. Thus, preventing any child from eating it or scaring away from sharp edges. Entrusting kids to play and create something with “real” materials helps them in building their confidence. This design is something that stimulates the user’s mind and not deadens it.

© Rigamajig Website

There is this hotel/apartment in Japan called Reversible Destiny Lofts designed by architect Arakawa and poet Madeline Gins that aims to challenge and stimulate the senses. They believe that people can reverse their destiny (aging and death) by being in an environment that constantly engages their full senses. Hellen Keller was their source of inspiration in developing Reversible Destiny Lofts as she had reversed her destiny during her lifetime.

Arakawa and Gins believed that white walls, muted colors, and flat floors lead our bodies to atrophy. Hence, the exterior and interior of the lofts are painted with bright and vivid colors; floors are covered with lumps– actively engaging anyone walking to be in the present moment, no time for worrying; rooms are circular– helps the mind to not be in fight-or-flight mode while staying in this challenging environment.

Fun fact: Reversible Destiny Lofts is one of Cas Holman’s inspiration to create her works. She realized that toys are “crap” and do not engage with users at all.

Oftentimes, we tend to go into autopilot mode. We tend to spend our everyday lives not registering what is happening around us. We get our mind and senses numb to these amazing world around us. We left out play during our childhoods and downgrade it as frivolous and childish.

All this information led me to think that comfort isn’t such a good thing after all. Designing for comfort when done to the fullest, instead of ‘resting’ the mind, it will actually deaden it to the point of numbness and total disengagement from the present. Play helps us both kids and adults to be actively engaged and keep all our senses in use. Designers can help their users to ‘reverse their destinies’– designing products or spaces in such a way that will affect the users in a significant way psychologically; influencing users to be more creative more imaginative, more community-oriented, more joyful and more empathetic towards other people.

 

References:

Lee, I. F. (2018). Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness. Little, Brown Spark.

TEDx Talks. (2014, June 13). The Decline of Play [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bg-GEzM7iTk&t=63s

TED. (2009, March 13). Play is more than fun [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HHwXlcHcTHc&t=24s