The Serious Need for Play
“Free play,” as scientists call it, is critical for becoming socially adept, coping with stress and building cognitive skills such as problem solving. Research into animal behavior confirms play’s benefits and establishes its evolutionary importance: ultimately, play may provide animals (including humans) with skills that will help them survive and reproduce.
Spirit of Play
Spirit of Play: The Big Picture

"Understand that learning can (and should) be playful." Joyce Valenza

I realize that the above picture of me is more than slightly blurry. It is almost impossible to catch a clear picture of someone who is totally enthralled by and engaged in what they are doing. Why? People at play are in constant motion.

You may have noticed that there are no "toys" in this image and the grinning man is slightly older than 9. Despite these facts, this back breaking day of pouring cement was one of my best days in recent memory. I laughed. I talked. I shared. I helped. I problem solved. I produced. I collaborated. I consulted with experts. I observed experts to gain new skills. I brought the best of me to the table. Time was meaningless. At the end of the day I was physically tired but my mind and spirit were thirsty for the next challenging opportunity. In short, I played.

We would like to suggest that the spirit of play is timeless and people who embody this spirit can find toys (imaginative tools of experimentation and engagement) wherever they happen to be. We envision a future where schools are places where staff and students are invited to share in this spirit as a rule...not an exception.

Benefits of Play

“Play, as psychologists and anthropologists have long recognized, is key in shaping children’s relationships to their bodies, tools, communities, surroundings, and knowledge. Most of children’s earliest learning comes through playing with the materials at hand. Through play, children try on roles, experiment with culturally central processes, manipulate core resources, and explore their immediate environments. As they grow older, play can motivate other forms of learning.” (Jenkins et al., p. 35)

"When children are deep at play they engage with the fierce, intense attention that we’d like to see them apply to their schoolwork. Interestingly enough, no matter how intent and focused a child is at that play, maybe even grimly determined they may be at that game play, if you asked them afterwards, they will say that they were having fun. So, the fun of game play is not non-stop mirth but rather the fun of engaging of attention that demands a lot of you and rewards that effort. I think most good teachers believe that in the best moments, classroom learning can be the same kind of fun. But a game is a moment when the kid gets to have that in spades, when the kid gets to be focused and intent and hardworking and having fun at the same time." Scott Oserweill

Living Examples of Successful Players and their Challenges to Us

James Cameron's success was rooted in play and curiosity as a kid. He had a phenomenal imagination which led him to experimenting with nature, drawings, etc. which are all elements of play. This play, curiosity, exploration continued through his life to this day. Added by Mark

"Games like World of Warcraft give players the means to save worlds, and incentive to learn the habits of heroes. What if we could harness this gamer power to solve real-world problems? Jane McGonigal says we can, and explains how." Added by Mark

Video games as philosophical toys through the eyes of the creator Will Wright. It is amazing...the designers of games are totally focused on the problem solving and the ability for people to experience the best of the world and themselves....even thought they may not be teachers can their efforts and focus be ignored? Games as imagination amplifiers. Added by Mark

Why Play? Why Now?
Photo by emma.c on

Education in the 21st century seems to be shifting from knowing to doing. Educators and students are being invited....dared to jump in with both feet when it comes to learning technology. You can't possibly reap the pleasure from splashing in puddles from theorizing or solely through listening to others as they regale you with their accounts of being immersed...of being drenched.

The following resources all deal with the future of education from a variety of angles. As you explore them apply the aspects of play suggested earlier especially the aspects of participation, engagement, and approaching challenges. Teachers and students are being asked to immerse themselves in new experiences, with new "toys", and/or utilize things they are familiar with but in novel ways.

Technology Integration:

Following site gives 20 tips for teachers to effectively integrate technology. Almost all of them deal with getting hands on with technology and/or the spirit of play:

Digital Pioneer: The Movie from Kathy Schrock on Vimeo.

Teacher beliefs, experiences and perceptions are key determiners of successful technology integration. Teachers' compartmentalization of work and play may serve as a barrier to fully integrating technology:
"All participants confirmed that they used various technologies for personal purposes, for instruction planning, and for administrative work, but very few of them viewed technology as a means to achieve instructional goals other than covering curricular content, preparing students for examinations, and highlighting important concepts." (Chen, 2008, p. 69)
Article Reference:

"I had an absolutely great time during my online session on RSS with the Webheads this morning...Have I mentioned how much fun doing stuff like this with technology is? Have I???" Will Richardson

Watch the video below that exaggerates the gulf between tech integrators and tech resisters. In terms of the tech integrator, how do you think he became so naturally proficient....reading books or splashing in the technology puddle?

Participation and Freedom
Photo by mnadi on

In our vision of the future everyone gets to play. It is hard to "engage with fierce attention" when teachers and students are excluded from the technological sandbox. In our vision of the future the digital divide will be a topic covered in history books. Schools will be founded on the principal of access.

Here are a few resources to use as you reflect on your context and how accessible technology is for everyone and how free they are to intensely engage with it:

"Study: ‘Digital divide’ affects school success"

Take the Risk: Give Teens the Chance to Think for Themselves

Format bigotry

Special Guest Post: Personal Learning Networks by David Kapuler

Play Risk, Safety, and Awareness

Incorporating the spirit of play into our vision of the future allows us to acknowledge the fact that true innovation, like play, involves manageable risk. Badminton, soccer, roller coasters, modeling clay, rocket building, video games, social networking, internet, and novel pedagogical practices all involve risk.

In our vision of the future, all staff and students will acknowledge and be able to embrace risk together as they will all understand the risks associated with technology and know how to navigate around them if necessary. Schools will no longer adopt practices that allow technology to take risk management out of human control. Staff and students will be educated in terms of ethical and appropriate uses of technology so they can play relatively unfettered as they fiercely pursue learning.