Play is central to how children learn: the way they make sense of their world; the way they form and explore friendships; the way they shape and test hypotheses about their intellectual, social, emotional, and physical environments. Much is known about the importance of play in children’s development, yet little research has explored what it might mean to put play at the center of formal schooling.  What is the relationship between play and learning? How do leaders, teachers, students, and families shape a school culture that supports a playful pedagogy? Understanding beliefs about and practices around play—in classrooms, on school-wide levels, and in global policy arenas—is an ambitious charge. This effort is complicated by the fact that play is culturally and contextually determined.

The Pedagogy of Play (PoP) project is a research collaboration between Project Zero and the LEGO Foundation. Together, we are exploring the role of play in school, working via teacher-researcher partnerships to develop nuanced understandings of playful learning as well as strategies for designing, supporting, and sustaining playful learning practices.

The project launched in 2015 at the International School of Billund, in Denmark. This research inspired a working set of playful learning principles, practices, and tools and the beginnings of a pedagogy of play framework. In 2017, PoP expanded to South Africa, exploring culturally relevant models of playful learning with three schools in Johannesburg and Pretoria. As we continue to explore playful learning in more and diverse contexts, we aim to continue developing culturally representative models of learning through play. To read more about the contexts of our research, we invite you to visit the site tabs to the right. And check out our blog at popatplay.org, where we present some of our emergent ideas, share pictures of practice, and invite our colleagues to share their experiences with and thoughts on learning through play.

 

Research

With a goal of understanding, articulating, and advocating for the role of play in learning and schools, the Pedagogy of Play research team has been engaging in a program of participatory research in collaboration with faculty, staff, and children at the International School of Billund (ISB) in Denmark. While the research is still very much in process, we take this opportunity to share two working papers that highlight some emergent findings and hypotheses. The first, Towards a Pedagogy of Play, situates the research in the fields of play and learning and presents promising theories around the objective and subjective nature of learning through play and the forces that shape those experiences. The companion paper, Playful Participatory Research: An Emerging Methodology for Developing a Pedagogy of Play, explores a new model of collaborative research and takes a deeper dive into the work with ISB. 

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