Play is central to how children learn: the way they form and explore friendships; the way they shape and test hypotheses; the way they make sense of their world. Much is known about the importance of play in children’s development, yet little empirical research has explored what it might mean to put play at the center of formal schooling. Playful learning involves more than games and fun activities—it entails activating a mindset where experiences are framed as occasions to be curious and creative, and where teachers and learners can experience joy and agency.  Since 2015, the Pedagogy of Play project, a research collaboration between Project Zero and the LEGO Foundation, has been working to redefine play and reimagine learning in schools, exploring three core questions: What does it mean to have a pedagogy of play and why is it important? What does playful learning look and feel like in classrooms and schools? How do educators set up the conditions where playful learning thrives?  

Together with teacher-researcher partners, we are mapping the terrain of learning through play in early childhood, primary, and middle school settings. We began our research with the International School of Billund (ISB), in Denmark.  A school where the vision and philosophy are designed around play, ISB was fertile ground for exploring early questions about playful learning in schools. Our research with ISB inspired a working set of playful learning principles, practices, and tools; pictures of practice (ideas in action); and, the beginnings of a pedagogy of play framework.  

Because learning through play is contextually determined—what playful learning means and how to nurture it differs from community to community and from school to school—we expanded our investigations to include cultural contexts beyond ISB. Our subsequent research with school communities in South Africa, United States, and Colombia, therefore, further explores how playful learning is shaped by local cultural dimensions, in the process helping schools understand their own vision of learning through play while contributing to a broad understanding of what playful learning looks like in diverse school settings. 

The Pedagogy of Play project is in the final years of research, building towards a playful teaching and learning framework; accompanying tools to help administrators, teachers, and teacher educators; and a guide for a new approach to teacher research called Playful Participatory Practice (PPR) that we developed with ISB. As we continue to explore playful learning in more contexts, we will continue to develop culturally specific models of learning through play as well as a meta-model and research guide for schools to develop their own cultures of playful pedagogy. We invite you to check out our blog at popatplay.org, where we present some of our emergent ideas, share pictures of playful practice, and invite our colleagues to share their experiences with and thoughts about learning through play.

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Towards a Pedagogy of Play

A resource from Pedagogy of Play
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PoP USA Indicators

A resource from Pedagogy of Play
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Toward a South African Pedagogy of Play

A resource from Pedagogy of Play
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PoP USA More than one way

A resource from Pedagogy of Play
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Playful Participatory Research: An emerging methodology for developing a pedagogy of play

A resource from Pedagogy of Play
The Pedagogy of Play (PoP) project officially took shape in 2015 in collaboration with the International School of Billund (ISB), in Denmark. A prekindergarten through middle International Baccalaureate school, ISB’s vision and philosophy are designed around play, making the school fertile ground for exploring early questions about playful learning in school. Since then, Project Zero researchers have worked with the whole ISB community—faculty, staff, students, families—to co-construct theories of the phenomenon of playful learning, to explore the influences that shape playful learning in school, to develop tools and strategies for supporting and sustaining playful pedagogy, and to understand some of the core tenets or principles that cultivate a culture of play for adults and children. Through our partnership with ISB, we have developed a new kind of teacher research called Playful Participatory Research (PPR). The core practices of PPR involve engaging in playful activities and provocations, tinkering with teaching practices (adopting a playful adult mindset), and viewing children as co-researchers in the process. In addition to adopting a Playful Participatory Research methodology, the work at ISB has been framed around three core practices: study groups co-facilitated by PZ researchers and ISB teachers, a commitment to using documentation and reflection to ground discussions, and engaging with the paradoxes that inherently exist between play and school.
 
On the ISB website you will find more context about these paradoxes, a model of playful learning, and many of the tools developed during the first few years of the PoP project.  Most of these resources are created for and by teachers at ISB, but drafted to be useful for any educator interested in the “how to” of learning through play.
 
Pedagogy of Play South Africa is an active research project examining the phenomenon of learning through play in South African schools. The research is being conducted in three schools representing an ethnically, linguistically, and socioeconomically diverse sample of teachers and students in the Johannesburg and Pretoria urban areas. Understanding that playful learning looks, feels, and is supported differently across cultures—and knowing that literature and empirical research have typically focused on western contexts—the project is an initial step toward developing a new, culturally-situated model of playful learning in South Africa. Working with educators from these schools, PoP SA is exploring what it means to support and sustain learning through play practices in formal school settings across cultural settings. We aim to develop a research method for designing culturally-relevant and site-specific models of playful learning. In addition, researchers and educators from the three schools are developing an accompanying suite of practices and tools aimed at supporting all stakeholders interested in bringing more play and playfulness into South African classrooms.
 

Project Info

FUNDER: The Lego Foundation