So tonight, I opened the door to my apartment at 8:15 pm or so. I was supposed to drive to shul (temple/synagogue) and take the Jewish kids to Friday night services, but no one wanted to go. Of course not. It’s Yom Kippur, so naturally no one wanted to go. (No, that doesn’t really make much sense to me. I’m being slightly sarcastic here).
So I had a couple of hours free to read and write, and then I opened my door. Within about ten minutes I was invaded. I got embroiled in a game of chess, three students started playing this game about the Neolithic Era called Clans, another group was playing Fluxx, and then one kid was playing my guitar, another kid was playing my hammered dulcimer, and another kid was playing my fretted dulcimer. Out in the hall, the Mexican students were hanging around, talking. I made some herbal tea, and everyone enjoyed that, too.
Every one of the fifteen kids on both floors was hanging around within shouting distance of my apartment. No one in the building was watching television. They were all playing games, watching games, playing musical instruments, talking about games or music, and generally behaving like rats in a highly stimulating enclosure.
Sometime back in the 1970s, these biologists were studying animal psychology. If you put a bunch of rats into small cages with nothing to do, eventually they start eating each other. Before they start eating each other, though, they become sullen, uncooperative, difficult to manage, and their intellect drops off steeply. On the other hand, if you put rats into large cages with things to look at, play with, and do, the rats become social, friendly, cooperative (both with their human handlers and each other), and (presumably) more intelligent.
By opening my apartment to the kids on my dorm, I’m enlarging their enclosure, and creating a more stimulating environment. The toys I already have are basically energizing and directing the talents of these kids. I hadn’t thought about it this way before, though I’ve made the rat-analogy before, but tonight basically proved it to me — if I want my kids to be social, energized, and intelligent, I have to create a social, energized, and intelligent environment in which they can operate.
It’s remarkable what a few musical instruments, a few games, and some cool background music can do.