I've been thinking a lot recently about Flow State and the very important role this has for all of us - as adults and for children.
Being "lost in the moment" and totally absorbed in the task in hand - and thereby igniting massive amounts of learning and well being is such a crucial thing and something that should be offered readily to everyone. But so much takes place around us that can halt or hamper access to these times of flow.
Flow state is intrinsically bound up in creativity and spaces for imaginations and discovery to happen. Its a key part of the way I work with children and I always seek to set up spaces in projects where this can happen; but also I know when I enter a flow state myself, its when the best ideas and explorations happen. Its all bound up completely in a sense of well-being, happiness and a sense of purpose - as well as a sense of discovery and finding out new things.
I'm going through a big period of reflection at the moment as some changes happen and energies need directing in different ways. Some long term projects are ending and other new ones are starting - which is an essential part of life. I can be very philosophical about that and also pragmatic - but with all of that comes a heightened sense of what drives you and what's important in life. Its also when you notice what you risk neglecting or losing - which I think can lead to a renewed sense of determination about things to hold dear. One of these key things is opportunities for being consumed in a state of flow as often as possible - for me myself, but most importantly for the participants in projects I work on.
Flow state is something that happens in different ways for different people; its when you often are so lost in your thoughts and absorbed in being in the moment that you feel a deep sense of discovery, absorption, engagement and fulfilment. You are often so consumed in what you're doing that you're not aware "flow" is happening. Its something vital to be aware of for educators - because it's where so much deep learning takes place; but also because its really easy to disrupt a child or group lost in flow state and thereby interrupt a point of crucial learning.
These times of flow can happen for individuals and for groups. It usually requires time and space - time to "get into the zone" itself and then a lot of time to actually "be" there and be immersed in whatever it is you are doing. There might be a lot of repetition when children are lost in flow state, they might test out an idea and become so transfixed by what they are noticing and discovering that they repeat this again and again, each time noticing more and more things.
Children lost in flow state notice so much; it's a crucial part of providing enriching experiences which enhance communication (it gives you something to talk about and to enquire about). Children yearn for the opportunities to repeat these kind of experiences, and sometimes these experiences provide some of the most magical and special days.
Immediate examples I can draw upon include:
- children den building - a hard to reach group of boys who could have taken half an hour making a basic den and who might have really struggled to work together, but who spent a whole day totally transfixed when they noticed some ladybirds on the wood they were using and this gave them the idea to create an giant den that was also an amusement park for the ladybirds.
- another group of children who struggle in very desk based tasks who were working with clay and created a whole miniature city because they were given the time and space to make, explore and extend their ideas (rather than an adult directed task to make a very fixed thing such as a pinch pot).
- an outside session in a pre school setting where we had taken in a set of shadow boxes to use with the sun, the children were transfixed by the colours and textures of the objects and they began to hang them onto one of the small trees outside... It was the middle of the summer and they spent about 2 hours totally focused on creating a "Christmas tree" and making a magical colourful space they could share and gather around.
In creative projects, flow state is something we come across a lot, especially when space and time are given for the kind of exploration to take place that enables someone to enter flow state. So its bound up in understanding child centred learning. I feel so lucky that I actually see children lost in this way of working and exploring all the time; but I also worry that its not understood or valued enough in scenarios where data and test driven agendas are high.
from The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt (an excellent book).
This quote sums it all up really well - and talks about how moments of being submersed in flow state are bound up and intrinsically linked to levels of happiness and well-being.
It can be a really subtle thing to spot - and also for educators its bound up in knowing when to intervene, when to offer support / scaffolding and when to sit back and observe. Its hard (but not impossible) to measure - but it can be observed and recorded alongside subtle ways of tracking / documenting well being and whole child development.
I think documenting this way of learning is key - its not easy and one of the things I've seen time and time again is for a child lost in flow state to be snapped out of it by a well meaning adult asking the child to pose for the camera. One of the (endless) things I adore about the Reggio philosophy is the way it challenges adults to "listen" to children in some of the most subtle and sensitive ways possible - and by listening, to then document the learning taking place.
Although flow state doesn't necessarily happen just in creative activity, it is a key part of creativity and invention. Its often very tactile - I notice it a lot when children are exploring mud, water, plants or paint for example; and this can also mean it might seem a bit messy (which really appeals to some adults / children, but not to others). It might also seem somewhat "pointless" and hard to grasp to those who look for neat tangible fixed outcomes and / or things that can be easily measured. With children, flow state is often child led - but this doesn't mean its removed from adults; very often the key thing is highly skilled and sensitive adults who have enabled a child to enter a flow state through the way they have set out resources, through the time they have carved out, through the physical and emotional space they have created. Flow state is so bound up in the process that there often is no single fixed outcome - its often a succession of discoveries and maybe a series of compositions of resources.
Although flow state can happen in so many ways and so many places, I do think there are a few key common factors that enable this to happen, all things that are essential to keep in mind when setting up spaces for learning, for creativity and for exploration:
time - time to actually relax and get into a state of flow (sometimes this can take a while) and then time to actually be immersed in it
space - inside or out, but it needs to be space that is conducive to the activity in question, space that ensures the activity isn't interrupted, space that enables the person / people in flow state to move about a bit and to extend what they are doing, and space which ignites curiosity in a safe way
sensitive adults (and sometimes it will need a high ration of adults) who know when to step back but also can see when to step in - and sometimes this might be without words (it might be just making sure a key resource is nearby so a child can access it, it might be moving something so that a child spread out the things they are working on...)
resources / tasks which the children can easily access but also which challenge in a manageable way; so the children learn and discover new things but feel able to succeed in these new tasks,
resources and tasks which excite imaginations, ignite curiosity and lead to a host of discoveries - and thereby its essential that there is NOT a fixed single outcome designed by an adult.
space and time to share these discoveries so that the sense of achievement is reinforced and celebrated; this might be actually sharing objects created or performing something, it might be a chance to talk to others about it, it could be a journal entry recording thoughts and feelings, it could be a series of photographs taken of important moments...
but also space to be left alone if needed so that the flow isn't interrupted