For me it’s always been a matter of playing: push the paint around, hold this idea next to that one, turn the stuff upside down, see what happens. Every great project I’ve been part of has been born of “what-if?” Things like play and learning, wonder, curiosity and a character-building outcome don’t always seem connected. I want to make a difference – for kids.
Don’t try; just play. That’s how I started building the world of the TOODs for kids who might be insecure, bullied (or the bully), curious about “who am I and whatrs my unique gift to the world?”
Beyond the stories of the various TOOD families and their fantasical worlds where kids can visit and explore, there will evolve a game. Why a game? In life, “small wins” can give kids a terrific sense of progress, boost motivation, and lead to enhanced levels of creativity. This project, its stories, games and anything else that can be developed will exist in a framework of open source sharing. Some people call that crowd-sourcing. Yes, I believe in the wisdom of the crowds. I definitely believe in the wisdom of the kids who will author, invent and design along with me.
When small ideas are combined across many people, truly great things can happen.
How do we teach character education, self confidence, kindness, generosity to self and others? How are values shared and instilled? Often we push specific behaviors rather than to engage kids in deep, open and curious reflection about certain ways of being. We try to provide reward and positive kudos for demonstration of the preferred traits.
In general terms, what the evidence suggests is this: the more we reward people for doing something, the more likely they are to lose interest in whatever they had to do to get the reward. Extrinsic motivation, in other words, is not only quite different from intrinsic motivation but actually tends to erode it. This effect has been demonstrated under many different circumstances and with respect to many different attitudes and behaviors. Most relevant to character education is a series of studies showing that individuals who have been rewarded for doing something nice become less likely to think of themselves as caring or helpful people and more likely to attribute their behavior to the reward.
Why use imaginary worlds for discovery and learning in character education? The field of social psychology demonstrates that much of how we act and who we are reflects the situations in which we find ourselves. Virtually all the landmark studies in this discipline have been variations on this theme. One of my favorite thinkers puzzling the effects of extrinsic motivation is Alfie Kohn. He explains, “Set up children in an extended team competition at summer camp and you will elicit unprecedented levels of aggression. Assign adults to the roles of prisoners or guards in a mock jail, and they will start to become their roles. Move people to a small town, and they will be more likely to rescue a stranger in need. In fact, so common is the tendency to attribute to an individual’s personality or character what is actually a function of the social environment that social psychologists have dubbed this the “fundamental attribution error.”
The stories and related activities that evolve from the TOODs theme and characters can promote an understanding of how others think and feel. Role play can support the impulse to imaginatively reach beyond the self.
One by one the TOOD stories, drawings, maps of their world, tales of real kids interacting with TOOD themes will be shared on this site. Am I fearful that someone might “steal” my ideas or copy this? Not at all. I believe that together we can make this endeavor the best it can be. As Teresa Amabile of Harvard Business School shares, “It seems increasingly likely that products and services resulting from the creative behavior of ordinary individuals [corwdsourcing] may not only become more prevalent than those coming from experts or geniuses in particular domains, it may actually become the most important source of creative breakthroughs.”
I believe we owe it to our children to provide them with a discovery-play-based route to more confidence, kindness, self-awareness and belief in their own power.
 See Alfie Kohn, Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1993); and Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan, Intrinsic Motivation and Self-Determination in Human Behavior (New York: Plenum, 1985).