Neverending Stories

I want to talk about some thoughts I’ve had regarding creativity, learning, and the way our brains work. I’ve never formally studied neurology, psychology, or education, so this is basically a punk thrash song. If you’re not big on that kind of thing, back out now.

My library developed an early childhood literacy program a few years ago which we call “6 by 6“–six skills by age 6 that help develop a child’s literacy. Some of those skills are: “have fun with books,” “talk, talk, talk” (using a large, broad vocabulary), and “tell stories about everything.” Parents, guardians, caregivers, and early educators can help children a lot by helping them develop these skills. Studies have shown that children who develop these kinds of early literacy skills grow up to be much more literate teens than children who don’t develop these skills.

A very strong principle of librarianship is “life-long learning.” We never stop educating ourselves, whether it’s by taking formal courses and attending seminars and workshops, attending professional conferences, or just reading and investigating things on our own. It’s along the same lines as educators and academics. I don’t think life-long learning is something that is or should be specific to librarians, educators, and academics. Everyone should be learning new things throughout their life. And it seems to me that the principles we put forward in our 6 by 6 program never stop applying to our education.

Which brings me to fandom. When I was in elementary school, I played with my Star Wars action figures, making up new stories (and often giving the action figures new names, personalities, and roles in the story) based on the original Star Wars movie. I drew comics and wrote stories that heavily ripped off from Peanuts, Dick Tracy, Star Trek (the original series), Scooby-Doo, Disney and Warner Brothers cartoons, kaiju movies, and the books and superhero comics I loved. Engaging with pop culture like this helped exercise and develop my creativity and my understanding of story. It helped build my vocabulary and inspired me to seek out more information on the world around me. I believe this kind of play is crucial to us, and it’s a shame that much of it is left behind as we grow out of childhood and into adulthood.

It seems to me that writing fanfic, role-playing (both the formal tabletop games I grew up playing and the looser internet role-playing many people do today), creating GIFs and internet memes out of pop culture, mashing up pop songs, playing in fantasy sports leagues…these things (and activities like them) are all important culturally (which is a different but related topic), but they’re also important for our brains. They continue the acts of having fun with books (and movies and TV shows, etc), learning and communicating with a broad vocabulary, telling stories about everything, making education playful and play educational. It’s better to actively engage with books, movies, music, etc than it is to passively consume them. Our brains change as we grow older, but not so much that we need to stop interacting playfully and creatively with the media we’re presented with. If we want to stay sharp, if we want to continue to grow, we need to always be playing and learning.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to take a nap. (Nap time is something else we should continue from childhood. But that’s another post for another time.)

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