In my classroom one day we had the cube blocks. We've had them before. And we'll have them again. Not a particularly unusual or unique item.
I wandered over to see what one of my friends was doing in the block center this particular day. He is one of my builders. He always spends some time stacking and building.
I noticed immediately that he wasn't making stacks or creating tall buildings. Something else was happening.
I saw that he had created a word. And then, before I could really absorb what he constructed, his hands moved along the bottom of his creation (with a few blocks in hand). His hands moved around the top, bounced on the middle, and pushed some blocks out of his construction.
The new blocks formed a line and his play was complete.
I wondered at what I'd seen, clicking my phone's camera while I watched. I didn't interrupt - mainly because I was busy processing what he'd done. Then it hit me. (And I really saw what he had created.)
He had re-enacted the opening of every Pixar movie. The word appears. The lamp hops along the bottom of the word and then jumps, bounces on the i, and replaces the letter.
I didn't comment. (A rare occurrence.) I just let it play out. He moved onto something else and so did I.
But I pondered (and have since pondered more) about this. I could never have suggested such a play exploration to him. It wouldn't have occurred to me. But what if I had insisted that he make a building or a cube or some other specific play plan that I already had in mind? He would have complied (probably) or just moved away. And never explored his own idea.
This is the same boy that had repeatedly written "20th Century Fox Entertainment" on white boards and paper. He recently did the same with magnet letters on our magnet board. He has drawn (rather successfully) the Warner Bros logo several times.
Why is he fascinated with these logos? I don't know. I haven't asked. Just as I don't ask why a child likes cats or cars or the color pink. They just are interested in these things. And want to explore them in different ways.
If I insist that the blocks are used for certain things or that they write the words and sentences I have provided or that they draw certain themes or characters, I circumvent what they want to explore and learn more about. There may be times that their energies should be focused in certain directions. But, as I ponder more about Peter Gray's Free to Learn, maybe that's not true. Maybe they need to explore logos or cars or the color pink as much as they choose. When they have mastered whatever they need to know about that (as determined by them) then they are ready to explore something else and master it.
What will my friend do with his knowledge of Pixar and Warner Bros and 20th Century Fox Entertainment? I don't know. And probably he doesn't either at this point. But we both can enjoy the journey of discovery together.