Where Does Spontaneity Go?
By Wendy Priesnitz
is one of the great strengths of little children; they live in the
moment, following their curiosity, darting here and there, picking
things up and putting them down, trying, exploring, laughing, playing.
Play is something that children know how to do very well…if only adults
who have forgotten how can stop interfering with their freedom to play
Many parents are scared of spontaneity. Or, rather,
they mistrust their children’s ability to regulate their own time and do
not recognize the value of unstructured play. School definitely frowns
on spontaneity, as do many so-called recreational pursuits – especially
those of the organized team variety.
Spontaneity also dies when we develop the
compulsion to do things perfectly. Although some personalities have that
tendency, I think it is also encouraged, if not created, by
results-based schooling (and parenting). Somewhere along the way, I lost
the ability to be spontaneous because I needed to please my parents by
being a quiet and “lady-like” child, to please my teachers by being
invisible except when called upon, and to please both sets of adults by
getting high marks. So I learned not to take chances and only to do
things I was sure I could do well.
Spontaneity sometimes dies when we train people to
become experts or “professionals.” Fortunately, my family didn’t have
enough money to give me lessons in things like drawing, singing, playing
the piano – or, more importantly, in writing. Nor did they value those
aspects of life or think I was particularly talented in them, let alone
apt to become a professional. So I wasn’t inhibited about my scribblings
because nobody defined what was good or bad, or told me I belonged in
the audience because I couldn’t attain perfection. So I played with
words. And that play helped me develop my creativity. And because nobody
expected me to be perfect, I was able to retain the ability to play,
explore, experiment, be spontaneous…at least with writing.
A good friend of mine, on the other hand, learned
how the road to perfection is littered with landmines waiting to kill
the joy of creativity and spontaneity. He had fun noodling around on the
piano. Somebody thought he might “make something” of his apparent talent
if he was “serious enough” about doing so. So he had to stop playing,
get a teacher, and start practicing. A rigorous schedule was followed,
there were competitions to take part it, always on the road to the holy
grail of perfection. He turned out not to be one of those talented
exceptions eager to hone their special skills; the joy and spontaneity
of play fled as quickly as playing the piano became goal-oriented.
How sad to be taught that learning is work, that
trial and error is inefficient, that there is something wrong with the
joy of discovery and creation, that the only valid pursuits in life are
those done for reward or for other people’s reactions. He doesn’t play
the piano now.
Like anything else that is abused, avoided, or
underused, spontaneity withers away. We become shy and inhibited about
trying new things, about expressing ourselves spontaneously. And that is
unfortunate, since spontaneity is one of the components of creativity,
something that we can all use more of in our personal and working lives.
In fact, says the late child development specialist, experimental
educator, and author James L. Hymes Jr, “Play builds the kind of
free-and-easy, try-it-out, do-it-yourself character that our future
Priesnitz is Child's Play Magazine's founder and editor. She is the
author of 13 books and has been a journalist for over 40 years.
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