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Creative Spirit - Joy In Learning / Character Education

By Diana Cole
September 6, 2002

Creative Spirit

Beth Works brought more than book learning to her class at Town and Country Elementary School. She taught the youngsters how to play, and in turn, to learn.

"The strategies were something I learned through Creative Spirit, a Tucson-based company that teaches students how to interact, solve conflicts, and play peacefully," Works said, describing the "Learning to Play, Playing to Learn" philosophy.

Justin Levesque--Herald Review

Spencer Gorin, left, with Creative Spirit plays games with students in Mrs. Quinones first-grade class at Town & Country Elementary School. The program teaches conflict resolution and team building.

Built on a foundation of peace-building activities for kids, the concept is the brainchild of Charlie Steffens and Spencer Gorin.

When Town and Country teachers saw the program's impact on Work's students, they were impressed.

Before long, Works was conducting mini-clinics for other teachers. And this week, with the help of Proposition 301 money and funds from the school's Parent Teacher Student Organization, the program came to Town and Country School. For three days, Steffens and Gorin spent time with students and teachers, presenting their peace-building philosophy through the dynamics of play.

Emphasizing that play should be fun and conflict free, the program promotes team spirit, minimizing the importance of scores and competition on the playground. Steffens and Gorin base their philosophy on two essential principles:

  • Play should be fun.

  • People-not scores - are the most important part of all games.

Standing before Karen Growing's third-grade class Steffens asked, "Why do we play?" Using students' answers, he created a class poster. Though every child's response was placed on the poster, "We play to have fun" was featured as the most important reason for playing. All other responses - "we play to get healthy, to get strong, to make friends,"- also were given as important reasons. Expanding the exercise, Steffens led students into a fun-filled discussion about fair play and the importance of following rules, using hands-on activities.

"Remember, you can only play if you're having fun and you're not having fun if you're not playing the right way," he warned his young audience.

Students created a second poster answering the question, "What is the most important part of every game?" With "people" as the correct response, Steffens guided students into a second discussion. "Without people, there is no game. So remember - you're the most important part of the game." Students discussed compassionate play and the need for offering assistance to those who have been hurt or injured in a game.

Steffens and Gorin said they believe that by minimizing the emphasis placed on competition and scores, play becomes more inclusive for all students - not just an activity enjoyed by more popular or athletic children. Classroom role-playing and discussions were followed with a "three ball soccer" game on the playground, where the class was divided into two teams. Teams were created without a team captain and without choosing students - the class was simply divided into two teams.

"This way no feelings are hurt, no kids are left out or chosen last," Steffens explained. "So many children become discouraged because they are often skipped over during team selection. Our goal is for every child to feel included, and to interact with the whole class."

Teamwork and cooperation during play are rewarded, creating a greater sense of team building and sharing among students. Students who are bickering or arguing are calmly pulled from the game and reminded of the rules emphasized on the class posters. They are asked to step out of the game and discuss their differences until they can reach a compromise.

The result is amazing. With the rest of their class engaged in a game, the students who have been pulled out quickly resolve their differences and rejoin their classmates.

"It becomes their choice," Steffens said. "The teacher simply steps out of the whole disciplinary process. Children soon realize the entire class is having fun, and they're standing behind the sidelines arguing. They learn to get along."
Though Creative Spirit is based in Tucson, Steffens and Gorin travel all over the country presenting their training program to educators, mental-health professionals and child-care personnel. It is endorsed by teachers and administrators. But kids love it too.

"I have a lot of friends, and I like to play," said 7 year-old Matthew Dildine. "Charlie (Steffens) taught us a new soccer game and it was fun." Matthew's favorite sports are T-ball and soccer, and he says he plans to use some of the ideas he learned from "Charlie."

Cassidy Mason and Priscilla Wood were two children who had a slight disagreement when Cassidy thought Priscilla had pushed another student during the three-ball soccer game. Steffens asked the two girls to leave the game to work out the problem. After a brief heated discussion, they reached an agreement, shook hands and returned to the game.

"Cassidy thought I pushed someone, but it was an accident," Pricilla said solemnly. "I didn't push anyone - I actually tripped."
At the game's conclusion, the two girls sat next to each other - even offering each other a round of applause when they were mentioned as particularly good sports by some of their classmates.

"I learned some really important things from Charlie," Cassidy said. Outlining what she learned in class, the 8 year-old offered the following list: "The number one reason to play is to have fun. The most important part of the game is the people. If anyone gets hurt, stay with them and help them. If you're not playing by the rules, you're out of the game."

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