The current metrics of success, and the stresses associated with them, can lead to real issues in developing a child’s holistic skills (emotional skills, cognitive skills, social skills, physical skills, and creative skills). This month we will go on the offensive and foray against negative trends in learning, with components of learning through play as our armaments.
If we’re going to be able to combat processes that hinder learning, we must first identify them. Naturally, it is important to scout the wolves in sheep’s clothing. An example of this can be found in the “push down” curriculum which stresses the mastery of academic content at a younger age. It is easy to see how it might come off as positive, when in reality it is squeezing out the important time for play. Stay keen on whether educational environments are aiming to support mastery through play or stifling it.
Keeping in mind the often toxic narratives associated with current learning objectives, we can shift our thoughts towards what learning through play can actually mean. Playful learning experiences can incorporate: free or voluntary play, guided play, construction play, collaborative play, learning through games, physical play, and digital play, among others. When an educator expresses that your child will be engaged in play, ask them what kind and how it might be supported in other environments.
There are key characteristics that we can identify in our playful learning experiences. These are: Joy, Being Meaningful, Actively Engaging, Iterative, and Socially Interactive.
A number of people, places, and technologies have used this approach to varying degrees of success. We are familiar and comfortable with a few of these words. Being meaningful or promoting agency – engaging – these are no-brainers. The bigger discussion should be based around Joy and Social Interaction.
Strive to set up experiences that allow for positive social interactions between peers and adults. This can take the form of showing and sharing iterations on a project and capturing the moments that change our mental models. Authentic relationships between educators and students are critical. Look for environments where there is a good ratio between mentors and students. A natural result of this is increased self-efficacy and enjoyment of learning.
TLDR; We all know what is good for our learners and ourselves when we experience it. The joy bubbles up and explodes with a smile. We’ve done it! It’s easy to set up project based learning experiences that “check all the boxes,” but unless we’re seeing smiles and sometimes even tears of joy, we’ve still got a lot of designing ahead of us!
Check out Digital Dragon’s spring and summer camp programs, your kids will experience joy with great social interaction!
John Balash was instrumental in Digital Dragon’s launch in 2013 as its first Curriculum Director and is now back in the fold as a consultant on all the latest and greatest in tech education.This is John’s latest contribution to a monthly blog series we’ve launched, Tech News from the Frontier. John is the Director of Educational Engagement at Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center. John has worked on educationally focused initiatives with clients ranging from D.A.R.P.A. to Disney. Working from both sides of the desk, you can find John in classrooms and conferences around the world exploring new uses for technologies in learning environments.