The Power of Play – Why We Should Just Do It!

My friend, Kristen, recently posted about developing a sense of play with her fifth grade students. This is what she wanted to leave her students with as they departed for Middle School. The post is really interesting and made me think about how much we play at school, how much we actually allow these 10 and 11 year old people to be kids and to play.

I am currently in Portland and my friend is at a Reggio course here. The purpose of the course is to teach teachers about things like play and how important it is in developing imagination and creativity amongst children. I went on a tour of the Opal School which is part of the Portland Childrens Museum. One of the large classroom spaces was shared by two classes. Not unusual in itself, until I tell you it was the fifth grade and the first grade. What you saw was an amazing example not only of how to develop community amongst a group of students, but also the role of play in the learning of all the students, be they just starting or preparing to leave the elementary school.

Here is a video from the Opal School with an explanation from their 8-11 year olds about the connection between play and learning:

Click for Video Link

This all got me thinking. I spent most of the next morning in the education section of Powell’s bookstore, and while I found a lot of good stuff (especially about the ‘third teacher’ which I will post on shortly) I didn’t find what I was looking for about play. So I went to the business section. Obvious choice, right? Well, turns out it was. I found a book there that was perfect – and not just because the first page I turned to was all about Seth Godin (but that helped!)

Upon reading the first section of the book, The Red Rubber Ball at Work that focused on INNOVATION I became convinced that play, and more specifically purposeful play, was going to be needed in my classroom next year if I am going to help bring about the innovation and imagination and creativity that I really believe we should be striving for in schools.

Take a look at the ‘takeaway’ ideas I got from each contributor to this section on innovation:

Figure out a backup for what might go wrong. ~Seth Godin, Author / Speaker / Entrepreneur

Share your ideas in a grown-up version of ‘Show and Tell’. Collaborate and exchange information freely rather than hoarding it all for your own advancement. ~ Tom Kelley, General Manager, IDEO

Develop the art of improvisation and always, always use your imagination. ~Emily Crumpacker, Chef / Consultant

Community is play. Help your community (whomever that might be) find its voice. ~Majora Carter, Executive Director, Sustainable South Bronx

Engineering is Art – just with different specifications and a higher level of math required. Practice engineering through art and play – and get some Legos! ~James McClurkin, Robotics Engineer

Without imagination you cannot anticipate the future. It you cannot anticipate the future, you cannot impact the future. ~ Andrew Zolli, Futurist / Founder, Z + Partners

Look to other people’s art to inspire your own innovation. Push each other to refine your skills and come up with new ideas but keep at the core of your community a mutual respect for each other and the personal belief that your voice matters. ~ Carlos “Mare139” Rodriguez, Sculptor / Graffiti Artist

I really like this quote and I believe it too. In his book, Kevin Carrol explains the difference between playful play and productive play and why he believes productive play can actually be woven into what we call “work”. This type of play:

“…has consequences, specific outcomes, and goals other than pure pleasure. It has a specific purpose, such as producing a tangible thing, like a new and better widget, or playing tennis to win a tournament rather than just for fun.”

I love that I have something new to read that backs up my own thinking on the importance of play. Now to figure out what that is going to look like in “real life” in my classroom. Key will be using the “third teacher” to facilitate this. Stay tuned for more!


Here is a great post on how Play is the Work of Children with links to some excellent quotes on why play is so important.  My favorite:

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