Shaped by Playing


“Dad, my classmates are in the class of painting, dancing, or piano, why don’t you send me to any?” This is a question from my friends’ 4 year-old boy in Shanghai. The competition among young kids in Asian big cities is fierce. Eventually, my friend didn’t want to send his boy to any class, so that the boy can be spared from the tremendous pressure. However under this pressure, many parents are forced to send their children to extracurricular courses, so their children could lead the race when interviewed by schools, even elementary schools, for admission. But the question is that whether the factory-like hobby production is suitable for the concurrent education system or good for the life-long development of children.

Many of the classes are highly formulated to fit the needs of the school system. Such practice means that extracurricular learning that is supposed to be unique to each child now is produced in batch and thus many children might have the same experience in the area. Furthermore, many schools assume that kids have acquired those talents that the extracurricular classes deliver, an assumption that makes extracurricular classes into something that, by definition, seems more like modern school education, which is compulsory and strictly follows curriculum convergence forged by bureau. Kids might get into better elementary schools, which lead to better primary schools, which then lead to better secondary schools, high schools, university and eventually better job.

This pattern is common sense shared by our society, and no doubt, personal learning leads to success. I was one of those kid sent to those schools considered better than the rest and the one who did great in the school and had decent scores. However, it is hard to evaluate where and how the learning happens, because we can not put a tag on each piece of knowledge that assists to our succeed. That is why scores can not guarantee a successful future, and why so many people without perfect school records, including my loved ones, earned the reputations in their field.

There are many educational theories that prove that children learn the most from playing. I am not going to pick any of them to make the points again that has been made by thousand of researchers, but share a story about how I develop myself unconsciously, led by playing.

I was born in a family of music. Even though my father did not had a chance to get to college, he learned music composition and music instrument playing by himself. When I was born, I guess, many of family friends expected that I was going to be a succeeder of my father. But after several years of trial, my father finally gave up.

When I was about 8, one night I was punished to be locked  in my fathers’ office by my father, since I didn’t want to practice singing. Of course, he did so to scare me, and left a decision for me to make: whether to continue to learn singing and anything that related to music, such as accordion and keyboard playing, or not ever. After roughly 10 minutes, he came back and repeated the question, and my answer was no. I guess that the answer shocked him somehow, but we got through.

However, for me it was a new beginning to discover what I really like when I play. Eventually I found 3 things that I love very much and help me until today

The first one is painting. After my father stopped to teach me anything related to music, I have more time on the weekend to learn other stuff. My mom send me to a painting studio which was hosted by a friend of the family. That is the place where I spent the most of my weekend before high school. The studio does teach me a lot, but the most I learn is in the painting for fun that I did on the street to sketch the old buildings, in the alley to paint the steps made by ancient stone tablets, and at home to create watercolor paintings that involve wax, detergent and salt, yes wax, detergent and salt. This creativity in playing eventually was lifted from paper and made into my work through computer.

Now you may have guessed that the second one is computer. I got my first computer pretty late, since my family was struggling to raise 2 boys and pay back the mortgage. You know kids in high schools: for them computers are all about games. I was one of them. Even sometimes today, I use game playing as a tool to escape from my work and clean my mind. My first computer game was Starcraft. Boys always play games very competitively, so most of us knows hacks about the game, which fascinate me a lot as a 15 year-old. I started to dig into the back-end of the game, and found the intriguing correlation between what appears in the game and what was recorded in the table (database table). This discovery eased my understanding to function in Mathematics class in school. Eventually at that time, I was the top one in the class in the session of function, but still the achievement in tests didn’t satisfy me, I eventually joined extra study group with my classmate to understand more about stuff, such why some of quadratic function does not have any solution and how it is used in our daily life. I think that was a moment that defines my interests in Mathematics. Until today, I still enjoy numbers, and puzzling mathematical questions, such what is imaginary number, what is e, why e^(π.i) =-1. The mathematical thinking pattern leveraged my ability to make things.

It is the third one: handcrafting. A destructor, I was in early age. Out of playful curiosity, I almost opened up all the watches, recorders and remotes at home. The understanding of internal connection of different parts comes very handy in life, of course, but the best thing taught me is a design thinking to solve problem: to identify the root of a problem or a movement, to come up a plan to address it, and to put the plan in reality. This thinking pattern, referred as systematic thinking by my friend James, extended to all aspects of my life and work. In learning, it finds weaknesses and confront with them; in work, it pins down the needs and builds a process accordingly; in code, it receives variables and returns results that makes functionalities come true.

As the result, I am a trainer in high tech industry who learned education in college, worked as animator and designer, and developed processes, systems and programs that increase the productivity of the team.

Check out more of my stories and adventures at


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *