Tap Into the Power of Play

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As a child, I was always one of those kids that had my pockets and backpack full of toys, games, rocks, and sometimes live animals! My Mom had to do a full security check before I left for school each morning, but I was always a step ahead with some clever way to hide my toys and sneak them to school. Later my Mom would find out when my teachers would turn over the confiscated items to her when I was picked up.  Even today, I carry around in my bag at least a couple of things to play with. 

What I learned from these early childhood experiences was that there seemed to be some kind of war on play and fun. At the time, I didn’t really understand what the big deal was, but now as an educator, I can see how traditional education systems that are hyper-focused on test results don’t have space for play. In fact, when I was teaching in public school classrooms, I became one of those teachers that asked students to put their toys away or they would be confiscated. 

Today, there is a growing body of compelling research that says play is the natural state of being for a child and that it can play a powerful role in learning. Play has been an ongoing research topic since the 1980s and has been led by research groups at UNSESO, LEGO, Harvard, IDEO, and many others.

The LEGO Foundation has produced several research briefings and playbooks that summarize the characteristics and benefits of play.

5 Characteristics of play: Play is…

  • Meaningful
  • Joyful
  • Socially Interactive
  • Actively Engaging
  • Iterative

Play builds these 5 skills:

  • Physical
  • Social 
  • Creative
  • Emotional
  • Cognitive

Tap Into the Power of Play

The World Economic Forum has released a report saying that “94% of businesses say they expect people to learn new skills on the job (as recently as 2018, only 65% said the same).” The skills they most want to see are critical thinking, problem-solving, active learning, resilience, stress tolerance, creativity, and flexibility. Coincidentally, these happen to be the same skills that play offers!

The research into play has also led to the development of practices, pedagogies and tools that can be used to implement structured play in classrooms, that are slowly starting to be adopted all over the world.

Whether you want to add a bit of play to your current curriculum, or you want to overhaul the entire system to be more playful, there are guides and best practices to follow

If you are looking for low-barrier entry points into playful learning, try these approaches:

  • Game based learning
  • Gamified learning activities
  • Tinkering
  • Outdoor activities
  • Project based learning


If you want to learn more about this, tune into our upcoming webinar on the topic. If you are reading this article after the date of the webinar, no problem! All previous recorded webinars can be found here on our website.

about Mark
Mark is Vice President of Education. He is passionate about project-based learning and teaching students to create with technology.
With experience in STEAM and maker education, he has consulted with teachers and administrators all over the world to setup and design impactful learning experiences with makerspaces and related education themes. He speaks internationally about equity and access to STEAM and maker education, most notably at the Stanford FabLearn Conference, MIT Libre Learn Lab, SXSWedu, EARCOS in Bangkok, UNESCO in India and at 21st Century Learning in Hong Kong.

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