Playful Learning

“I know it’s just a playground, but I love the way the kids are learning in their new space.” Parent observer

Can play offer more than just the opportunity to “blow off energy”?

All too often play gets the short end of the stick, or should I say shortened, due to busy schedules. The purpose of play varies depending on who one interviews, but one thing is for sure, play is an essential part of both growing and learning. When asked, most staff and parents I speak with at schools tend to feel recess (a time when kids are encouraged to play) is a time for blowing off steam, running around, refreshing their minds so they can focus better when they return to the classroom. Students are in agreement with this to some degree, and surprisingly to many they see playtime at recess as holding other values as well.

When asked what ‘play’ means to them and how they would like to play during recess, a large percentage of students want to use their imagination, hang out with friends, find a quiet place to unwind, build structures or play with manipulatives (blocks, boards, tools, items from nature), and take risks. In agreement with adult expectations are also those who want to play sports and run around. All of these are important aspects of play.

For children (and I would hope for adults too), play and learning go hand in hand. I am referring here to a type of play called “free Play”, where rules and demonstrations are limited and how to play is determined by ones imagination, resources, trial and error. Free play develops courageous, creative, and collaborative thinking, acting, and first hand understanding. It’s where life and learning come alive. This type of play should not be seen as a luxury, it is a necessity.Like classrooms, the play environment and playtime should be a laboratory for learning and growing.

Sure ball fields and manufactured play equipment serve a purpose, however when it comes to truly engaging ones mind and body, playspaces that encourage free play are by far a better bang for their buck.

In light of the waning time nationally and internationally children and adults spend at play, there is a growing body of research supporting the importance of play, specifically Free Play. If you are interested in learning more about the importance of play, visit Stuart Brown’s organization: The National Institute for Play, and view his brief thought provoking TED talk on “Play is More Than Fun”.

“Play is a child’s work and this is not a trivial pursuit.~Alfed Adler.

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