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Ask a Kindergartner: Master New Skills through Play

[Guest blogger Jane Cocking, MCC, is a Principal at Wisdom Works. Her last post addressed removing irritations before they pile up.]

If, like me, you find yourself over-thinking the challenges of growth and learning that lie ahead, do like my grandchildren do. Go to the playground.

John and Emma wanted to watch the big boys skateboarding. After several minutes of watching, John made an announcement: “MawMaw, my favorite is the guy in the blue shirt.” When I asked him why, my grandson informed me: “Well, he’s cool. And he is really, really good.” I hadn’t realized that a five year old, one who has never set foot on a skateboard, could have such a discerning eye toward technique. Not having quite that same grasp of the sport myself, I asked how John thought the boy in blue had become so good. He was quick to reply: “Well, he practices of course.” It’s as if John had been eavesdropping on my recent coaching sessions with clients who are facing the need to learn new skills to serve their organizations. But for John there was more to it than just practice, as he told me with a note of finality: “And I like his long hair, too.”

Inspired to put their own skills to the test, the kids ran over to a new curvy climbing structure. It was actually quite complicated, requiring significant balance and coordination to maneuver to the top and back down. Emma, our little mountain goat/chimpanzee, took to it naturally after only one try (with just a little help from MawMaw). John, on the other hand, got half way up in his first two tries and became gripped with fear. “I’m going to fall,” he said.

I assured him I was right behind him and said I knew he could do it. I suggested taking a deep breath and noticing where his hands and feet were. On the fourth try John made it to the top without fear and without falling. Ever the proud grandmother, I gushed: “I’m so proud of you, John. Just look at what you did!” A huge grin spread across his face and he beamed, “I knew you’d say that, MawMaw. When you did, it made me smile inside.”

John didn’t have the older boy’s blue shirt or long hair, and he didn’t have his little sister’s natural talent at defying gravity, but he did discover a couple of tricks that helped him accomplish something new: practice — and a little bit of MawMaw’s encouragement. It’s hard to say which is more important, but when both are as close as the local playground, what’s stopping you?

Like Robert Fulghum, who learned everything he ever needed to know in kindergarten, we can learn from play. When we use grown-up terms like “organizational growth,” “professional development,” or “corporate diversification” all of a sudden learning sounds like a lot of work. But what John did on that curvy bar is not a far cry from the demands that face leaders at their desks every day. If a trip to the playground doesn’t work for you, then remember Fulghum’s words:

Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
Live a balanced life – learn some and think some
and draw and paint and sing and dance and play
and work every day some.

And spend time with children. And make sure to tell your own MawMaws (or mamas or papas or kids or friends or colleagues) whenever they make you smile on the inside. One little remark like that from a five year old and I’m still smiling from ear to ear.

Photo by Jan Tik