What are the core features of a pedagogy of play?

If we had just a few minutes to explain what a pedagogy of play involves, we would tell you about these principles. They are the core ideas and values that serve as the conceptual foundation for a pedagogy of play. Most of the principles apply both to children and adults, however the last three address adults in particular. The principles are culturally specific—created in and for ISB—though we hope they may have relevance in other settings.

  1. Playing with an educational purpose
    Playful learning often situates curricular goals, content, and activities,  as well as learners’ lives and interests, within a larger purpose or inquiry.
  2. Learners leading their own learning
    Taking playful learning seriously means tipping the balance of responsibility for learning toward the learners. Playful learners are intrinsically motivated to reshape the world and to test the limits of their abilities without fear of failure.
  3. Experiencing choice, wonder, and delight
    Learners experience choice, wonder, and delight when they are learning through play and interacting with people, ideas, materials, or spaces. At the same time, what is playful to one may not be experienced as playful by another. Not all learning has to involve play, nor will every moment of play entail significant learning.
  4. Connecting life inside and outside the classroom
    Playful learning frequently invites a transfer of knowledge and experience between the classroom and life outside the classroom.
  5. Learners reflecting on playful experiences
    Learners need to reflect on their learning in order to learn through play. This can happen before, during, or after a learning experience.
  6. Cultivating a culture of playful learning for adults
    In order to create a culture of playful learning for children, there needs to be a culture of playful learning for adults. Playful learning benefits from teachers’ capacity and disposition to find the extraordinary in the ordinary (whether materials, physical environment, academic content, etc.).
  7. Fostering trust and welcoming negotiation
    Trust at all levels (administrators, teachers, children, families) and a willingness to negotiate policies and rules are necessary in order for playful learning to flourish.
  8. Collectively studying the paradoxes between play and school
    Fostering playful learning entails navigating a set of paradoxes (two true statements that are seemingly contradictory) between the nature of play and the nature of school (e.g., play is timeless, school is time-tabled; play can be chaotic, messy, and loud, schools are places of order; play involves risks, in school, children should be safe; in play, children are in charge, in school, the agenda is generally set by adults). Collaborative and systematic study, supported by documentation, can help educators navigate these paradoxes.