Monday, 8 March 2021

The Place and Role of 'Play' in Schooling?

My title might seem surprising to some readers. If so, I'm pleased! The title has worked a treat, and hopefully, I've got your attention. But the title isn't just a trick to get you to open the post. I wanted to discuss just how important play is for children and adults. If you look in the index to my book, you won't see a single entry for 'play'. Shame on me! But the place of play is very important at every level off education (preschool to tertiary) and IS reflected in the book. Play is spoken of in varied places, because it is a critical part of learning for adults as well as children. Have you ever heard children and adults saying things such as the following:

"I'm not sure what I'll write, but I want to play with some ideas, and see where they take me."

"I use my scrap book to doodle, sketch and experiment with ideas."

"I need time just to sort out my ideas."

"I'm lacking inspiration today, I need some space to think and ponder."

Every one of these comments can be responded to with the words, then "take some time to play around with your ideas."

One of my academic heroes in life was Donald Murray, who was without a doubt, one of the greatest teachers of writing and could write himself. In fact, Murray was awarded the Pulitzer prize for editorial writing at the age of 29. Murray understood the need for all writers and thinkers to have space and time in which to play with ideas, daydream, experiment, contemplate, and toss ideas around with other writers, learners and friends. He was aware more than most, how important play is to writing and learning. 

"I am never bored. I overhear what is said and not said, delight in irony and contradiction, relish answers without questions and questions without answers, take note of what is and what should be, what was and what may be. I imagine, speculate, make believe, remember, reflect. I am always traitor to the predictable, always welcoming to the unexpected…."

One of my greatest disappointments in life as an aging teacher, is that the place of play, experimentation and messing around with ideas, has almost no place within most of the classrooms and schools I visit. Why? Because our schools are driven by tests, reviews goals and external assessments. 

How sad Friedrich Froebel would be if he could see us now! Froebel was a German educator who created the concept of the ‘kindergarten’, believing that “play is the highest expression of human development in childhood, for it alone is the free expression of what is in a child’s soul.”

Could I encourage you to return to my framework and think again on the following?

Principle 8 - Do we create opportunities for students to take responsibility for learning?

Principle 9 - Do we foster development of the imagination and creativity?

Principle 10 - Do we encourage risk-taking and problem-solving in all learners?

And while you consider the above, remember also that play does much more than simply help our children to create and learn. 

Educators at your child’s early childhood education and care service might have told you that they use a ‘play based’ approach for children’s learning and development. But as well, play can help our children to grow as people. What do I mean by this? Scott Eberle says it pretty well in the following quote:

"Much of the pleasure we derive from play is social in nature, and play strengthens our social skills. Play propagates itself in our close groups, strengthening old acquaintanceships and rewarding us with new friendships. These bonds shore up our societies with common associations, common experiences, and common purposes. Playing also deliberately rearranges our relationships and so enhances our social wit. At play we learn to read others’ intentions. And by playing we learn to deflect and defuse conflict." 

Could I encourage all of my readers NOT to forget the power and importance of play.


Scott G. Eberle, The Elements of Play: Toward a Philosophy and a Definition of Play, pp 214-233, American Journal of Play, Winter, 2014, pp. 226