"True Mastery NOT possible without FUN!

"I know we avoid the word fun," writes Brent Schlenker in his post True Mastery is NOT possible without FUN, "but let's get real."
Most children will stop an activity WELL before they achieve this level of mastery. Most kids at some point will bang things together and show an interest in making noise and yet have no desire to sit at a drum set. But you can tell by watching this kid that he truly enjoyed every moment of his time on the drums. Heck, most adults just don't even try new things. An adult's "expert" mind rationalizes the time commitment of gaining a new desired skill, and they decide no, without even giving it a chance.

So, why shouldn't we consider FUN a critical part of the learning process?

If the learning experience is not purely joyful and fun, then the pain associated with the learning process forces the child to quit and the adult to not even start. But let's also remember that does NOT mean the learning must come easily. No, in fact, the joy comes from overcoming a difficult complex challenge. The joy of learning comes from the DOING...over, and over, and over, until you get it right. During the over, and over, and over part you are certainly frustrated at times and even angry, but it IS still joyful because you are hopeful that knowing soon you will have overcome the challenge and success is right around the corner. And THAT feeling ROCKS!

Via David Cicia

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Playful Learning

It takes one full hand of coconut, 2 tablespoons of concentrated orange juice, 3 pieces of orange, 4 slices of apple, 5 cubes of cheese, 6 slices of banana, 7 pieces of melon, and 8 grapes, stirred 9 times, to make a Number Salad. (video here)

And it takes a lot of loving sensitivity to children and the way children learn, to parents and playfulness, to make a site you can call, with pride and integrity, Playful Learning.

If you're looking for a great way to start the new year, consider starting with this.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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At the Centre for Learning and Games in Israel

Here I am, once again, in the Educational Centre for Games in Israel, preparing to participate in a "Playforum" sponsored by the center, enthralled by Helena Kling's boundless energy, profound understanding, and deep commitment to play. The Playforum turned out to be a rare opportunity to meet an eclectic collection of play folk - teachers, designers, developers, dramatic play therapists, business play leaders - each with their own gifts of play to share. It was brief, deep, and embracing (maybe because we played a couple's version of knots).

Helena, a certified Defender of the Playful, was recently featured in an article in the Jerusalem Post. Here are a couple of not entirely random quotes from the article:

"If it's got 'educational' on the box, don't buy it," says Kling. "There is so much other stuff you can buy and have fun with, why have a piece of cardboard where a child throws dice and goes round a board and doesn't get anywhere?" Besides, she says, crudely overt "educational" games are the first to be ejected from game collections..."

"KLING SAYS she's often contacted for advice on what parents and grandparents should buy for their children. "Buy something you like that you'd like to play with" is her recommendation, as parents and grandparents should be a part of the child's play. "

Lovely woman. So knowledgeable. So playwise. Who provided me with yet one more lovely opportunity to meet and teach and learn.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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The Wonder that Drives the Science

So far, I've written about two people who have deeply impacted my understanding of the play/science connection. One of those mentors was my high school physics teacher. Another, Dr. Olga Jarret, my daughter's play/science mentor at the University of Georgia, recipient of the Defender of the Playful award, and who recently invited me to speak at the 2010 conference for The Association for the Study of Play.

I wanted to put both of them together in one post, to commemorate their contribution to my life, and, hopefully, to enlarge theirs to yours.

In my article describing Dr. Jarret's work, I quoted from one of her manuscripts:
Counting takes on new meaning when children count the spots on ladybugs to determine if they all have the same number...

(use) measuring sticks, thermometers, scales and timers (to) determine without guesswork who has he longest hair, how long a worm is when stretched out/scrunched up, how fast a pumpkin grows...." "see how many drops of water you can drip onto the face of a coin before it runs off. Then flip over the coin and try the other side."
And here, from my article Teaching Games, what I learned from Mr. Bush:
...we were about to start playing with our cloud chambers. Mr. Bush had already made one, and we were looking into it, watching these strange contrails zipping across the inside of the bowls, appearing like messages from the unknown.

Mr. Bush stopped us, then turned off the lights, opened the shades and closed the binds so that only a little daylight came into the room. We could see beams of light cross the ceiling, reflected from the windows of passing cars. We spent a couple minutes watching those familiar, yet suddenly strange patterns of light race across the ceiling. Mr. Bush, in a quiet voice, asked us if we could figure out what kinds of cars made those reflections. We laughed in shared puzzlement. And then we watched some more. I thought I recognized the shape of a Kaiser - because of its weird front window. But, of course, I couldn't really tell.

Then he added: "trying to figure out what car made that light is exactly like what scientists do when they try to understand what kind of particle made that trail in the cloud chamber." And then he was silent, letting us look at the light from the passing cars some more, wondering, experience the wonder that drives the science.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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A Handout for a workshop on "When Teaching is Fun"

I used my Mac and a projector to capture some of the thoughts that were generated during my workshop at the Primary conference (a gift from my "Technography" days), and appended them in a notes file to the handout I had prepared for the session.

As you might glean from those notes, what I hadn't prepared for was the depth, creativity, enthusiasm and playfulness of the core participants, all of which was revealed in its fullness in a short game of Tabletop Olympics (a.k.a. Junkyard Olympics, and soon to be known as "The Junkyard Games"). What you see in the photo is a spontaneously generated version of Junkyard Bowling, which, according to its re-inventors, was clearly a sport of Olympic proportions.

All of which gave me a sense of hope for education. Somehow, despite all the bureaucracy and standards and testing that has dominated the inheritors of the No Child Left Behind legislation, there are still teachers who believe in play, who make things fun, even when fun doesn't count.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Teaching Games

I recently wrote an article called Teaching Games.

I wanted to share with you some of the second part, especially, because I thought you'd find it especially useful.

It goes like this:
Something gets engaged in people when you teach them new games, and the dialogue is about fun. There are rules to be learned, and rules to be changed. And if the game is really new to them, they have to challenge some pretty basic assumptions about what winning means and what strategies to use. They have to think about what's fun for them. Become sensitive to their own sense of play. They have to discover the unique proposition of the game, and the fun inherent in that uniqueness. And if the game is similar to one they already know, they have to make even subtler distinctions.

See, this game is just like tag, except there's no base, and the only way you can be safe is when you're hugging someone.

And, most important, the teacher, and the player, both have to think about the fun of it all. About what's fun for them, together. And how to make the game moreso.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Find a game you think you'll have fun playing together.
  • Look for a game that's like a game you've already had fun playing together.
  • It's especially easy to teach a game that's like a game you all already know. "This game is just like Tic Tac Toe, only you have to get 4 in a row, and you can use an X or an O."
  • Start out with the shortest version of the game - the one that will take you the fewest rules to explain.
  • Teach the game as though having fun together was more important than how the game is supposed to be played.
  • If winning becomes too important, change sides from time to time, or make it the rule that you both can play either side, or give each side a name, and decide ahead of time which side is going to win, or play a different game - especially a game that doesn't require a lot of skill, or try a game that involves a very different skill.
  • Don't stay with any one game longer than it's fun for everybody to play. Start out "tasting" the game. You don't have to play it to the end. Just play it long enough to decide whether you want to play it some more.
  • If it stops being fun, stop the game and play something else. Something different. Something involving a different skill. Or no skill at all.
  • Take turns teaching each other games.

Something else happens to both games teacher and games learners as they explore more new games. They start thinking not only about the fun of it, but also the shared fun that grows wider and deeper between players and teacher.

And what gets learned, just like what we learned at that physics class, is too deep to be measured. But it enriches us. Enlivens us. Engages hearts and minds and bodies.

We learn how to approach the learning of new systems, of relationships, to our minds, bodies, to each other. We learn how to create and sustain fun. How to pursue happiness together. We learn how to teach games. We learn each other.

Which is why I'm suggesting that this idea of Teaching Games is something that we might take very seriously, in deed. Something we might even take professionally.

When we teach people how to teach games, the focus is on fun. And that's what they teach when they teach games to other people: different games, but always with the focus on fun. Every meeting another game. Helping them find the games that help them find fun, together.

It's something game teachers can do this at senior centers and kindergartens, coffee shops and recreation centers, playgrounds and hospitals - engaging minds, muscles, hearts, teaching each other the arts of fun.

I'm not sure what to call this profession. Not Game Teachers, because what's really being taught is not so much games. But something deeper even than fun.

Play pals? Fun buddies? Game gurus? Magisters Ludi?

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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The Fun of Teaching and Learning

With a little help from friends and bloggers, I'll be launching a new series of programs about the Fun of Teaching and Learning. The programs will include presentations and workshops that focus on the psychology, sociology, and dynamics of fun in learning and teaching.

As advertised, they will be about the fun of teaching as much as the fun of learning, and I hope to offer them at every level of education.

Some of the concepts and experiences I'll be including in the program:

For me, being in a position to make education more fun has been a lifelong goal. I figure that's a far more sustainable goal. I'll be offering the program for modest, negotiable fees, wherever I can.

I could most definitely use your assistance in word-spreadage.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Minimally Invasive Education

The story starts like this:
"Sugata Mitra has a PhD in physics and heads research efforts at New Delhi's NIIT, a fast-growing software and education company with sales of more than $200 million... But Mitra's passion is computer-based education, specifically for India's poor. He believes that children, even terribly poor kids with little education, can quickly teach themselves the rudiments of computer literacy. The key, he contends, is for teachers and other adults to give them free rein, so their natural curiosity takes over and they teach themselves. He calls the concept "minimally invasive education."

To test his ideas, Mitra 13 months ago launched something he calls 'the hole in the wall experiment.' He took a PC connected to a high-speed data connection and embedded it in a concrete wall next to NIIT's headquarters in the south end of New Delhi. The wall separates the company's grounds from a garbage-strewn empty lot used by the poor as a public bathroom. Mitra simply left the computer on, connected to the Internet, and allowed any passerby to play with it. He monitored activity on the PC using a remote computer and a video camera mounted in a nearby tree.

What he discovered was that the most avid users of the machine were ghetto kids aged 6 to 12, most of whom have only the most rudimentary education and little knowledge of English. Yet within days, the kids had taught themselves to draw on the computer and to browse the Net. Some of the other things they learned, Mitra says, astonished him.
So we gather further evidence of the play-learning connection. Hopefully, conclusive enough evidence, at last, to help teachers brave the inevitable disapproval that comes from trying things like this, for real. Play and learning, as we so well know, are synergistic forces, and they meet evermore gracefully on today's Internet. We follow no particular texts, take no tests, get no report cards, and yet learn, by ourselves, from each other, simply by playing. Simply because it's fun.

This is hard to fit into a curriculum.

via Chris Saeger

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Science play

Many, many, many years ago, when I was in high school, in Omaha, actually, I had the amazingly good fortune to participate in an experimental physics class that was experimental in every way possible. The course itself, developed by MIT, was just being tested, and the whole program centered around what seemed to me to be very much like fun (see this article for a teacher's perspective of the program). I probably learned a lot of physics in the process, but for me the biggest learning was that learning itself can be fun (I was in high school, where I went from classroom to classroom, discovering over and over again that fun and learning were supposed to be two very different experiences). In many ways, this whole program was a validation for everything I hoped would be true about education. We played. We made our own instruments out of, basically, junk (a micrometer out of two mirror slides, a toothpick and rubber band). We learned. We learned not just about physics, but our world and ourselves.

This was 50 years ago. Today, thanks to computer technology and a few illuminated science educators, we have physics simulations - virtual playthings that allow us to explore the interdependence of all things physical. For the most part, they are refreshingly fun, immediately accessible, inviting hours of observation and experimentation.

I don't think they can effectively replace experiences like making your own micrometer, but they can ignite the curiosity and playfulness that are native to all scientific enterprise. The best of these physical simulations are the most game-like, igniting wonder, inviting play.

There are many such resources available online. Here's one more example, called "My Physics Lab."

One of these days, educators will learn this lesson. One of these days, the distinctions between play and learning will no longer be so obvious.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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The Adventures of Johnny Bunko

The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You'll Ever Need might actually be that very thing. It's short. It's clear. It's fun to read (it looks just like a Japanese comic book). And, like all useful guides, it's easy to understand. Nothing really deep, until you really think about it. And it's written by Daniel Pink, author of the best-selling A Whole New Mind.

The entire guide consists of 6, easy-to-digest lessons:
1. There is no plan. (The best career plan is ad hoc. When the diem comes, you just have to carpe it.)
2. Think strengths, not weaknesses. (Pink even alludes to our much-vaunted philosopher of fun Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi)
3. It's not about you. (Serving others serves you best)
4. Persistence trumps talent. (Think "long haul")
5. Make excellent mistakes. (Think big)
6. Leave an imprint. (Do something that matters)

Of course, nothing is easy. Each of these lessons can take a lifetime to pursue and understand (which is exactly what makes the guide so useful). On the other hand, these lessons are rooted in a very enlightened pragmatism, and for someone who is searching to create a life of meaningful work, they are as useful as understanding how to create a life of meaningful play.

The Adventures of Johnny Bunko is such an easy, entertaining, enjoyable read, and its lessons so clearly and playfully illustrated, that it's easy to overlook what a significant accomplishment this little book really is. You can read it in a half-hour, you can spend the rest of your life putting it into practice - a practice that comes from the heart, a practice whose wisdom leads the reader towards self-actualization, towards lasting, personal fulfillment. In establishing principles for a better living, Johnny Bunko guides readers to a more satisfying and meaningful life. And it's fun, too.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


Games for Health

Games for Health is having its Fourth Annual Conference in Baltimore, May 8-9.

Games for Health, a project of the Serious Games Initiative, asks four questions:
  • Can games improve the provision, and quality, of healthcare?
  • What existing and emerging game technologies (such as multi-user, virtual environments) might be particularly useful when applied to healthcare issues?
  • How can we expand the application of computer-based game technologies to face key challenges in the healthcare sector?
  • How do we identify and proactively deal with any social, ethical, and/or legal issues that might arise through the application of game-based tools to healthcare issues?
I have a fifth: Can games make healing fun?

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Exploring the Wisdom of Games

Once I learned to see the connections between theater and children's games, I began to understand the wisdom contained in their playful dramas.

Once I started sharing this wisdom with adults, it became the thing I liked to do best - more, even, than designing games or reviewing games or writing about games and fun and stuff. I first discovered this when I was leading a workshop for teachers at the Durham Child Development Center in Philadelphia, and rediscovered my joy in ths at the Games Preserve and at the Esalen Institute.

I play with grown-ups, especially playful grown-ups. We play a kids' game together. I talk a little about the theater of the game - the play and interplay of roles. And then everyone talks about the "drama" of the game, as if the game were really some kind of theater piece - especially about the drama they experienced, personally. Not so much about their own, personal drama, but about about the drama of the game itself, about relationships, about the way of things in gameland.

I like what happens as we play and talk, play and talk - some kind of healing, playful, loving wisdom starts manifesting itself. Because we are grown-ups playing these games. Because of the growing honesty and openness and depth of sharing we are capable of, just the act of playing each game reveals to us a depth, a drama more profound, more personal, a truth more mutual, more freeing.

"I have learned to see children's games as scripts," I write, "for a kind of children's cultural theater. I see them as collective dreams in which certain themes are being toyed with - investigated and manipulated for the sake of sheer catharsis or some future reintegration into a world view. They are reconstructions of relationships - simulations - (myths) - which are guided by individual players, instituted by the groups in which they are played or abstracted by the traditions of generations of children."

I like to do this best. Teach people to see this. The artistry, the clarity, the wisdom of games.

And frankly, I'm hoping that by telling you about it, I'll get to do this more.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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More kids/games/violence research

I received the following email from Tom Hanson, editor of OpenEducation.net
I see where you recently discussed kids and video games on your site (see: Are Video Games Ever Good for Kids?). At OpenEducation.net we did an in depth review of the topic of violent video games that included an interview with one of the authors of the book. We broke the topic out into three posts:

Shoot-em Up Video Games - The Cause of Greater Anti-social Behaviors in Teens?

Author Reveals "The Surprising Truth About Violent Video Games"

Experts State: Do Not Banish - Instead, Manage Violent Video Game Play

The research of Kutner and Olson has caused one critic of such games, this writer, to rethink his thoughts on the topic. If you think the posts would be of interest to your readers I would be grateful if you would share them.
Grateful? No, no, I'm the one who's grateful for this great resource. Someone's been doing a lot of clear thinking, in the name of education and play - the series, and in fact the blog itself, is a gift to all of us: designers, players, families and especially kids.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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The fun fed

I have been in touch with the people who've been organizing, running and developing "the Fun Fed" since before they opened their doors in 2005. According to their new website, "The Fun Fed was created with the aim of offering opportunities to adults on the lookout for more joy, upliftment and laughter. We do this by running games, singing, dancing and clowning sessions up to four times a month."

This is a good and much needed thing, this Fun Fed. To catch a bit of the goodness, click your way to their collection of games. See, for example, Stick Swap - a game of exemplary silliness, and purposefulness. I better let them explain:
"Our sessions offer physical activity, laughter, joy, creative opportunities, stress relief, a space to meet new people and the chance to let your hair down and your selves go.

"Most importantly, they offer you a natural high and a feel-good factor without the morning after!

"A question people ask us all the time is 'What kind of people come to your sessions?' – which is so hard to answer. The sessions are aimed at anyone and everyone who would like to be play games and have fun. They are not 'therapy' although of course having fun always makes you feel better, think clearer and smile more. In terms of the demographics, about half of any session is likely to be 28-38 with the other half spread throughout the other ages groups. And people come from all walk of life. The other week we had a session with 20 people, here’s what they did: Student, Coach, Managing Director, Massage Therapist, Recreation consultant, Marketing, Media Buyer, IT Consultant, Fundraiser, Photographer and Unemployed – and we had a fantastic time."
The Fun Fed - yet another gift to all playkind.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Improvisational Fun - The Imaginary Text Adventure

Here is what one might call a relatively perfect example of a central, oft-overlooked, and yet genuinely delicious flavor of fun: Improvisational Fun. Follow this imaginary text adventure as improvised by "Double Fine's Tim Schafer, designer of Full Throttle, Grim Fandango, Psychonauts and upcoming god of gwar epic, Brütal Legend. Prior to the release of those games, he worked on The Secret of Monkey Island, Monkey Island 2 and Maniac Mansion: Day of the Tentacle, as described in the Joystick article Return to Quest Quiz - Tim Schafer."
You peer into the glowing red eyes of the mechanical bear, curious about the purpose such a dangerous contraption could possibly serve. You briefly wonder if there are any robot trout nearby.


You see a rusted mailbox marked "T. Girtlebee." Behind it lies a quaint cottage surrounded by (seemingly non-hostile) garden gnomes. Several puffs of smoke escape the home's crooked chimney. You smell bacon.

>open mail box

The mailbox contains ... mail. You don't know why you were expecting anything different.

>examine mail

"You may already have won* ONE MILLION DOLLARS!"

*an opportunity to be eligible to win a chance at winning the possibility of winning.

>examine sealed manila envelope

You open the envelope and reach deep inside. Like, really deep. It seems the interior of the envelope, err, envelops a magical and infinite amount of space. You could pull anything out of this thing, you reckon.
Try playing it on your next car trip, or with the person behind you in line, or online.

Improvisational Fun. One of my favorite flavors.

via Metafilter

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Good fun; and instructive

"At a departmental meeting," writes John Naughton, "one of my colleagues wanted to illustrate a point about the complexity of social networking. Everyone present was given five pieces of coloured string and then told to give one end of each to five people they knew well. You can imagine the result. Good fun; and instructive."
This, from a blog post called "Social Networking in Meatspace" - a "simulation game" that is precisely what a simulation game needs to be:

"Good fun; and instructive."

from Memex 1.1 via Marc's Voice

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Torus Games

Here's something else to be thankful for. Torus Games is the latest of Jeff Week's wonderfully playworthy, genuinely educational, free, downloadable Geometry Games (both Mac- and PC-compatible).

Jeff explains: "Eight familiar games introduce children ages 10 and up to the mind-stretching possibility of a “multiconnected universe”. Games include: tic-tac-toe, mazes, crossword puzzles, word search puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, chess, pool and apples. While playing the games, kids develop an intuitive visual understanding of a model universe that is finite yet has no boundary. Players who master the games on the torus may move on to try them on the more challenging Klein bottle. Even though the games were designed with kids in mind, adults interested in topology, geometry and cosmology have also found them enjoyable and enlightening."

It is a gift, supported by the National Science Foundation and people who seem to care about kids and learning and believe in the educational value of play.

Let us give thanks. Let us play.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Hexa-Trex: for the love of numbers

A few months ago, I wrote about some wonderful puzzles from Think Fun. I received the following comment from Bogusia Gierus. She wrote:
"I happened upon your blog recently, and had fun reading it and enjoyed doing some of the puzzles you suggested. I wanted to introduce you to a puzzle I have developed. It's called: Hexa-Trex. It's a math puzzle, but doesn't require extreme knowledge of mathematics to have fun with it - only basic arithmetic is essential. The object of the puzzle is to find an pathway through all the hexagonal tiles that creates a valid math equation. It's a simple concept, but is challenging and fun for the 'puzzle' type of person. If you wish, check out the puzzles on my website, I try to post a new puzzle each day."
A few months later, she sent me a copy of her new book of Hexa-Trex puzzles. And it seemed pretty clear to me that it was time to let you know about this - about a teacher who has such a love for kids and learning and, most significantly, such a deep appreciation for the fun, the inherent fun that learning is all about. And about these gifts: the free, online treasury of Hexa-Trex puzzles, and this most puzzling, innovative little book of good, hard, fun - with numbers, even.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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If you lived here, you'd be home by now - rendered in White-o-Glyphics

If you lived here you'd be home by now. At least, if you could read the White-o-Glyphics, which, as you look more closely, seems like you, as a matter of fact, can read White-o-Glyphics.

"MY IDEA," says author and originator Matthew White:
"If we took all the common graphic symbols floating around nowadays, would we have enough to make a viable hieroglyphic language? Would it be possible to translate Finnegan's Wake or Moby Dick entirely into dingbats, whim-whams and clip art?

"We'll go at it in two steps. First, let's harvest all the signs, symbols, icons, etc. in common use. For example, as I write this, I see dozens of standardized symbols at the top of this screen indicating copy, cut, paste, save, undo, print, etc. On the way to work this morning, I noticed 10 distinct graphic symbols on the elevator control panel -- up, down, open, close, stop, phone, alarm, fireman, handicapped and exit. In fact, now that I've spent a few months poking around and noticing these things, I've compiled a vocabulary of some 500 pre-existing symbols that some -- maybe most -- of you will recognize immediately.

"Second step, we fill the gaps. Rather than trying to draw a specific picture for every object and concept in human experience, let's instead use various combinations of our five hundred or so root glyphs to create compound words."
And a fine idea at that. So fine, that one might fail to notice that, elsewhere on this very site, exist an amazing compilation called the "Historical Atlas of the 20th Century. And, by golly, if that isn't just what it turns out to be. Complex. Detailed. Animated. In depth.

This guy, Matthew White, is doing some serious playing around here.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Internet Movie Archive - free stuff, free play

Did you know that there's a veritably amazing collection of movies, online, free, courtesy of the voluminously virtual virtues of the Internet Archives? Well, did you?

What does this have to do with fun and games, you might ask. Search, and you will find. For example, this one, part of their Open Source Movie collections, is from Don Ratcliff's study of children's free play in a hallway and on a playground. He explains "Video recorded on an elementary school playground, for comparison with video data in the same school's hallway, conducted for my dissertation research. To access a similar video clip of the hallway, go to http://www.archive.org/details/playground1. Four other video clips of the hallway are available by changing the last digit in the address to a 2, 3, 4, or 5."

Ratcliff's complete dissertation can be found here.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Dots Amazing!

You need a real artist to take a simple children's puzzle, like Connect-the-Dots, and transform it into something worthy of mature, adult-worthy consideration. A real artist.

And that's just what David Kalvitis is, an artist. And that's just what he's accomplished with his many Dot-to-Dot books.

Let me give you a few examples:
Stars puzzles: You start at number 1, as you would expect, and continue connecting dots in order until you come to a star. Then you have to look for the next number, which could be anywhere else in the puzzle, and continue from that number to the next star. And on and on, number-to-number-to-star. Jumping around from place to place on the puzzle, you really have no idea what you're drawing, sometimes until the very last star.

Arrows: You see this big field of arrows - no dots at all. Just arrows. So there's absolutely no visual hints about what the puzzle is about. You look for a circled arrow and start there, following where it points until you come to another arrow, and you take off in that direction. Of course, if you make a mistake, just one, small, easily explicable error, you soon find youself wandering realms of graphic chaos. Which is why, despite Kalvatis' heartfelt recommendations that all his puzzles be done with a marker, we find ourselves frequently recommending a soft pencil with a very good eraser.

Compass: Here, you get nothing but an array of dots with a few symbols sprinkled in hither and yon. You look for a star and, then read the directions printed above the puzzle. And I do mean directions. Like, from the star, go: N (North(, and then Wx2 (two dots west), and then SWx2, and then on and on and on, and if you do it exactly right, you'll end up at an A. And then, from the A, you start on the next line of instructions....
For an elementary school teacher, the different puzzle types involve skills that are closely tied to the mathematics curriculum. For the rest of us, they are an invitation to return to a deeply satisfying, often remarkably peaceful pastime.

These are but three of the innovative, challenging and inviting variations of connect-the-dots Kalvitis has created for us. And, if you're a social puzzler, it turns out that many of them can be solved cooperatively - especially the big puzzles, or puzzles like the Star puzzles that you solve in segments.

There are five volumes of the "Greatest Dot-to-Dot" series, so far. The first four are a great introduction to the wide variety of puzzle types. The fifth volume is most appropriately called "Super Challenge," where you'll find puzzles that span two pages and hundreds and hundreds of dots. There are also four volumes of Kalvitis' Newspaper Dot-to-Dot puzzles - smaller, but every bit as innovative.

Each puzzle is a work of art in its own right. When you complete a puzzle, you are rewarded with images that are themselves often surprisingly vivid, sometimes rich in detail, sometimes spare and subtle. Often drawn in perspective. Never stiff. Never blocky. Always surprising.

from Major Fun

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Kids, Magic, and The Confoundingly Crazy Crate-O-Mystery

The Confoundingly Crazy Crate-O-Mystery (from Fundex Games, available here) is a confoundingly clever way to introduce kids into magic. They get magic apparatus (ok, toys), comic book-like instructions, and an instructional DVD that shows them how each of the ten tricks included in this kit is performed, and the secrets that make each trick work. These materials are central to the magic of the Cofoundingly Crazy Crate-O-Mystery. The biggest obstacle to mastering any illusion is learning how to do it. You can go to a magic shop and buy hundreds of wonderful tricks, but when it comes to learning how they work, and how to perform them, you have to rely on cryptically written instruction slips, usually in small print, that convey little if anything of the art of it all.

Most of the 10 magic tricks are performed with with the assistance of wonderfully toylike apparatus, which is exactly how it should be. There's plastic monkey with detachable tail, feet, arms, hat and banana. And a sheet of tattoos. There's the crate itself, made of sturdy cardboard with magnetically sealing doors on 4 sides. There's a special magic handkerchief. And some other stuff. I don't want to get too specific here, because it might give away some of the secrets to the Confounding Craziness of it all. You'll also need two cookies and a dime. And I can't tell you why.

Magic is a very special kind of play. It's part science and part theater. The Confoundingly Crazy Crate-O-Mystery is a well-presented introduction and invitation to a unique form of fun - one that can last a lifetime. Especially recommended for kids who are old enough to read (8 and up), disciplined enough to practice and perfect their secret arts, and enjoy being the center of awe-struck attention. Major FUN, indeed.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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The master in the art of living...

The master in the art of living

makes little distinction between

his work and his play,

his labor and his leisure,

his mind and his body,

his education and his recreation,

his love and his religion.

He hardly knows which is which.

He simply pursues his vision of excellence

in whatever he does,

leaving others to decide

whether he is working or playing.

To him, he is always doing both.

Found here by Steve Cooperman.

Attributed to a Zen Buddhist, in Head to Head by Lester Thurow, Dean, Sloan School of Management, MIT.

I didn't think you needed any further explanations as to why I thought this was worth your time.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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The Opposite of Play

(image found in Lee Stranahan's weblog) Today's FunCast is inspired by a quote from Dr. Brian Sutton-Smith, my friend for over 30 years now, and, as all of my friends, my personal mentor. A play-advocate who has brought more understanding, compassion, scholarship and original thinking to the study of play than Piaget or Huizinga, professor emeritus of the University of Pennsylvania, and author of, among other things, The Ambiguity of Play. The quote: "The opposite of play isn't work, it's depression."

You have to be just a little bit of a rebel if you really want to have fun. You have to be doing something you're really not supposed to be doing. Nothing really bad or hurtful or even really dangerous. Something slightly naughty. A little bad maybe. A tiny bit illegal.

Like playing where you're not supposed to be playing, when you're not supposed to be playing, with people and things you're not supposed to play with. Or playing in a way you're not supposed to. With maybe not exactly the "real" rules.

For some reason, no matter how old you are, if fun is something you really want to be having, you generally have to be doing something you shouldn't be doing, really. That's how you get to the liminal spaces, at the edges of acceptability, predictability, respectability.

So when people talk about bringing fun into the workplace or places of learning, it's always just a little bit threatening, a little bit disturbing of the status of the quo.

And in places where such play becomes so threatening that it is rigidly, thoroughly disallowed, where this minor expression of playful illegality is systematically suppressed, you get depression. Deep, thorough, mind- and brain- and soul-numbing depression. In those places, work places, learning places, living places, you get the opposite of play.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Magic Camp

Imagine being a kid, 10-15, and spending 3 mornings a week, for two months, learning magic. Imagine, furthermore, that this class is being conducted by a place called The Magic Academy, founded by the famous "illusionist" (a far more accurate description of what magic is all about) Gopinath Muthukad.

While you're at it, imagine how sheer the fun of mastering illusions that can mystify parents and friends alike. Imagine the impact on the kids' experience of themselves, and the world, on their understanding of the rational grounding of all illusions, on their belief in themselves, on their growing mastery of mystery.

Now imagine this school taking place in India, where magic is everywhere. India, where people still astound audiences with the famed Indian Rope Trick. India, where magic and illusion abut religion and science. Read, for example, this paper Illusions and Images of Magic India and Indian Magic

So this is powerful play, this magic. Powerfully informative. Powerfully healing. Stage magician David Copperfield and psychologist therapist Julie De Jean have developed something called Project Magic, specifically for "people with physical, psychosocial and developmental disabilities or those recovering from accidents and illnesses." They have found that magic "motivates the rehabilitation process and develops and improves self-concept while boosting hand, gross motor, problem-solving and social skills."

Magicians, as this article explains, "know an awful lot about how people perceive the world."

A summer camp in magic. What a gift to give a child.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Games Firefighters Play

They call it "Waterball" (click on the image to see it in its liquid glory). Apparently, a ball is attached to an overhead cable, so that it can slide back and forth. Teams, in a kind of waterhose-powered "push-of-war," compete to get the ball to other end of the cable. A simple enough idea for a game. Fun. Spectacular, even.

The contribution of a game like Waterball to our lexicon of playfulness can't really be appreciated until it's compared to other efforts to bring a little much-deserved fun to our community heroes.

Waterball is both fun and exacting, requiring the kinds of skills that are crucial to effective firefighting, yet putting them in a context that is clearly an opportunity for delight. As such, it's a paradigm for the design of any truly effective training game. May it be appreciated and much imitated.

Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Silliness, Blessedness and Wisdom

A friend of mine pointed me to a game called Flyguy, and I was so taken by the silliness, simplicity, and deeply lighthearted experience that I started thinking once again about the connection between silliness and blessedness (you know, the origins of the word "silly" include the concept of "blessed").

I've also just recently begun correspondence with Gershon Winkler, who "is both a renowned scholar as well as a rabbinic trickster." In his first message to me, Rabbi Winkler wrote: The Zohar says "There is no wisdom as wholesome as that wisdom that comes out of silliness." Which connected the whole "silly" thing back to wisdom. Which reminded me how I talk about DeepFUN as "exploring the wisdom of games." Because I believe that games, especially those that are truly fun, are also resevoirs of great wisdom. Which is what I write about extensively in articles like Near Myths and stories like the one about the children's games of Hot Bread and Butter.

I asked Rabbi Winkler if he could tell me more about that amazing quote. He explained: "The Zohar teaching is from Volume 3, folio 47b, and it goes on and on about the importance of clowning and how the teachers would open their discourses with silly things to open the hearts to the wisdom and that without clowning, the knowledge cannot be imparted wholly." Which reminded me of that piece I found about play and teaching. Which reminded me about how and what I teach. (See this for more of Rabbi Winkler's wonderful quotes.)

I'm not sure what this is all leading or taking me back to. Maybe a validation. Maybe a new direction. But I thought you'd enjoy the dance.

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