January 03, 2013

Dreaming about Language Learning with Playmobil

I just could not resist getting the school playmobil set on sale last week. I felt I simply needed to have it, can not explain why. Yes, I bought myself Playmobil for Christmas, as my wife refused to buy playmobil to her 38-year old husband, despite my childish persistence. 

Pure delight was little to express my feelings and gratitude when I unwrapped my big Christmas package and saw that my Santa wife had given me an even bigger playmobil puppet theater set with its own carry case! What a treat!

I am probably not the only adult out there who collects and sometimes plays with childhood toys. Every collector has his or her own very special reasons for having their own private treasure. Here I share why Playmobil is dear and near to my heart and how it is part and parcel of my affective language learning world. 

Playmobil brings me very good memories. Memories of times in which I lived my creativity in an exciting and sheltered environment when I played on my own, with my sister, and with a few close friends. As a child, I particularly liked playing on my own making mountains, sacred caves, and deadly cliffs with sheets, blankets, and a chair. I also remember getting domino pieces and incorporating these in the play by making new vehicles, traps, and pyramids. In this very intimate playing of my own, I lived, relived, and experimented with language in a myriad of social roles, situations, and outcomes. More than using their voices, I became the characters and felt their unique emotions and perspectives. 

I was probably 8 or 9 when I had the unusual dream of having an English teacher coming to my bedroom, sitting on the floor, and playing with me and my playmobil in English. My wish was learning in English this very rich language of my own play, in which my hands, head, and heart were totally immersed in. Not only did I want to learn the language, but I also felt the urge to play with it, by saying it soft and loud, whispering it in many ways, and shouting it with funny voices over and over. In this language play dream, I wished I could savour the characters and their lives through the words of a new foreign language.

In hindsight, I can say that during play I must have lived what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls the experience of flow, which is considered to be the  ultimate experience in harnessing emotions to perform and learn. In flow, one is fully immersed, involved, and focused in the activity, through which our motivation and enjoyment reach their peak, making us even lose track of time and our surroundings due to the sheer excitement, increased concentration, and intrinsic pleasure. I think that these early flow experiences with my playmobil certainly contributed to my later interest in connecting young learners' interests, emotions, and play to language learning.

I was aware of this childhood dream, talked about it when asked about the beginning of my work, and considered a neat memory. That was until the day I saw myself on the floor with Felipe, a very talented 6-year old student, playing with his pirate playmobil. In our learning play, I responded to his linguistic demand by giving him the words he needed to express himself and the characters in English. I marvelled at his ability and creativity in inserting the new words in his sentences and how he was living his real language at that precise moment.  There sitting on the floor of Felipe's bedroom, it all came to me in one powerful insight. I was fullfiling a childhood dream.

But what do we do when we notice we are living a dream? Well, I enjoyed for some good 20 minutes and then I told young Felipe about how I wished that would have happened to me as a kid. By sharing it, I was able to include him in that delicious moment I was savoring.

I'm fortunate to be able to relive all these moments and make sense of my path as a player, student, teacher, and dreamer. For now, I’m preparing and saving my collection for my future children and grandchildren to play their dreams.

Well, I guess that’s why I like playmobil so much.

What about you?
Do you have childhood play experiences that have influenced your beliefs and your teaching?

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  1. Congratulation Juan. The Playmobil sets are awesome. Great idea for Emanuel in a year of so.

    As I read your post, I kept thinking of my own childhood and I couldn't answer your questions when comes to play, but I loved music and I remember singing the records in English without understanding a word.

    However when I think of my children and their relationship with the language I can see how much of the affective factor comes into play. Emanuel especially loves playing with the language and repeating it is just a game for him. Every day, he comes up with something new, like for the last couple of days is "I can't" pull this/ catch that while he mimics what he can't do. It is amazing.

    Thanks for sharing your story. Very nice reminder of the child that lives inside us.

    1. Thank you Rose!

      You will certainly have your own insights when you are not expecting them.
      What an opportunity you have to see language in creation and motion with Emanuel!
      Playing with toys and thoughts melts with the playing with words and language in a fascinating and beautiful dance.

      Let's allow your inner child to play and teach us what we have inside.




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