Play = Learning

Play Blog Illustration One of my favorite activities as a kid was climbing trees. I have memories of many hours spent in a row of trees that had low hanging branches in the park near the house I grew up in. It was fun to climb onto the branches and just hang out like a cat watching people playing in the park.  The memory was so strong that when I saw that these trees were gone on a recent visit to see my parents, I felt like I had lost old friends.  As it turns out my tree climbing activity as well as my other play activities as a child were important to my development.

Lev Vygotsky, the Russian psychologist, believed that play was a result of social interaction, a key element in this theory, and that play serves as the primary context for cognitive development. ( 1978).

Play, as Vygotsky envisioned, is a rich manifestation of imagination that combines elements of reality and fantasy rather than distorting reality.

” Imagination is a new formation which is not present in the consciousness of a very young child, is totally absent in animals and represents a specifically human form of conscious activity. Like all functions of consciousness, it originally arises from action.”

Excerpted from Imagination and Play in the Electronic Age
Dorothy G. Singer and Jerome L. Singer

Learning through Play

Some very important work has been done in the study of play and it’s importance to creativity and learning. Some of the questions that we need to ask as we develop curriculum in this disruptive and transitional era include:

  • How do we encourage students to explore and develop curiosity?
  • How do we adapt standards that address different learning styles?
  • How do we also develop life-long learners?

Last week I wrote about how gamers feel more engaged in virtual worlds then in the real world. How can we best level up” our instructional methods to engage students so they don’t retreat?

Quest to Learn: A school for digital kids.

It’s already happening in a few places! The Quest to Learn school in New York is utilizing an exciting new educational model. Quest’s mission is to translate “the form of games into a pedagogical model for 6 to 12th graders”. They learn by doing.  Using gaming principles, students assume identities, explore new challenges and develop skills through the process of  actively engaging a challenge and not passively consuming information and data.  It’s exciting and daring and I look forward to seeing the school evolve.

The core principles of Quest to Learn are:

  • Learning for design and innovation
  • Learning for complexity ( Systems Thinking)
  • Learning for critical thinking, judgement and credibility
  • Learning using a design methodology
  • Learning with technology and smart tools.
  • Preparation for both college and the world of work.

( More detailed information can be found on the Quest to Learn Website)


Finally,  please take a moment to check out the Play = Learning site created by Dr. Dorothy Singer and several other colleagues. It is a call to action website that supports increasing awareness of the relevance of play in the development of children.  The site is a few years old but the information has remained relevant.

Thanks for your attention and have a good week!

Additional Resources.

The 3 R’s? A Fourth Is Crucial, Too: Recess

Play Ethic – Cool blog about Play

Play and Cognitive Language