A Visual Exploration Of Why Play Is Necessary For Learning

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We make lasting connections through play, but the role of play in learning is an idea that continues to meet resistance.

Part of the reason could be tone. We like our learning serious, intentional, and academic. This is reflected through a parallel insistence on an outcomes-based learning system where learning objectives are determined and assessments are written before hand, and subsequent instruction is revised based only on data taken from said assessments. (See “10 Ways Data Can Sabotage Your Teaching.”)

And the entire process itself is based on a pile of industrialized and de-personalized “learning standards” that, while well-intentioned and designed to ensure a “common body of knowledge,” dictate the terms of learning from the outside looking in. Image the hubris the must exist to determine ahead of time what a student will understand as the result of a learning experience! (I only pray Grant Wiggins isn’t reading this.)

Like video games, “play” suffers from a juvenile connotation that is unfortunate. Even though the most “professional” adults continue to play, such efforts are often disguised, or apologized for with ridiculous conditions and explanations. Why apologize for creating your own goals and terms for interaction?

3 Factors That Make Play Exhilarating 

Ultimately, play offers three critical components for an engaged mind: independence, volition, and curiosity. None of this is to suggest that students should be given iPads, a box of legos, and every app they care to download and frolic about with. But it does suggest some marked shifts on how learning happens.

Charles Darwin’s teacher said he wouldn’t amount to much because he spent too much time “playing” with insects.

But as the video explains, it’s never just play.

Image attribution flickr user bobbyjames; A Visual Exploration Of Why Play Is Necessary For Learning