5 November 2014

Putting PLAY back in the classroom: Inspiring a passion for learning in students

Like most kids, I was born... I grew up doing what kids did - I played. I challenge educators to rethink about how they can utilise 'play' into the classroom. Instinctively, children will play for hours. They play at school, at home, by themselves, with friends and even with kids they don't know! Educators would benefit by learning how to harvest this natural playfulness and apply it in the classroom. 

Through play, children learn about relationships, gender, race, fairness, unfairness, friendship and exclusion (Grieshaber and McCardle, 2010). In play, children experiment and develop knowledge and skills in language, literacy, numeracy and science in everyday encounters (Goouch, 2008; Samuelsson and Johansson, 2006; Van Oers, 2003).

When students give in to impulses of curiosity and desire through play, they learn. Traditional education systems seemingly do a great job at decreasing play and increasing formal classroom learning activities. When did we start teaching kids not to be kids? Who decided that schools shouldn't develop the imaginations of young minds; but instead punish them for breaking the rules and thinking outside the box?

For too long now children's creative impulses have been restrained in schools. The problem with the traditional system comes down to a simple, yet ineffective relationship between the teacher and the student, one born from authority and influenced by a drive to meet strict standards and harsh deadlines. To reshape this relationship, teachers need to consider ways of inspiring creativity, engaging young minds and developing passion for learning. This can be successfully achieved through playing. 

Designing classroom activities that encourage play allows students to explore, to break rules, to make mistakes and to inevitably learn. By motivating students to play, they will naturally develop skills aligned with a Growth Mindset

A 21st Century example of how play-based or inquiry-based learning can be achieved through schools is via a Makerspace. 

"Makers take risks and iterate from “failures” to achieve success. Makers have a growth mindset that leads them to expend the energy to learn. Making fosters character- building traits collectively known as grit, including creativity, curiosity, open-mindedness, persistence, social responsibility, and teamwork, among others."

Things to remember when facilitating play/inquiry-based learning:

Supportive Network

You need to create and maintain a safe and supportive learning environment for your students to thrive. Students need to feel genuinely valued before they will be comfortable contributing to the class. This is reiterated when you acknowledge that mistakes will be made and not punished.

Have a Focus

Learning through play or inquiry needs to be fueled by a focus. Play-based learning does not mean you sit behind a desk for 2 hours while the kids "play with things" and "learn stuff" on their own. Develop a passion for inquiry in your students. Inspire them to solve problems through trial & error. Be a facilitator and a motivator while encouraging students to challenge each other. 



Goouch, K. (2008). Understanding playful pedagogies, play narratives and play spaces. Early Years, 28, (1), 93–102.

Grieshaber, S. and McCardle, F. (2010). The trouble with play. Maidenhead: Open University Press