How do we incorporate play theory into learning?
WHAT IS PLAY?
Play is an essential part of learning and intrinsic to child development. “In psychology and ethology, play is a range of voluntary, intrinsically motivated activities normally associated with recreational pleasure and enjoyment” (wiki). Play is voluntary and intrinsically motivated. The impetus for play is pleasure and is activated by a sense of enjoyment. At its core, play has structure. Play theorist, Johan Huizinga, describes play as an activity that “proceeds within its own proper boundaries of time and space according to fixed rules and an orderly manner.” (From “Homo Ludens). Often the players are intently focused on an objective; this type of play is know as a game, and has Its own set of rule and is goal-oriented. On the other hand, fantasy, imagination, day-dreaming are other types of “play” where a player embarks on a solo journey of role-playing, testing out mentally created scenarios that may enable him or her to reality test real life situations.
HOW ARE PLAY AND LEARNING CONNECTED?
Play and learning are connected. Playing is the act of testing scenarios, though the imagination, or in structured games. Through these scenarios that mimic real-world scenarios, people reality test solutions to various “problems/conflicts” present within the make-believe scenario. Through this testing, information is gathered and through the joy or repeating play, the players build an internal library of information that preps them for real-life situations.
HOW CAN PLAY BE CONSCIENTIOUSLY USED TO LEARN?
Is it possible to play, while simultaneously tracking information, so that through each iteration of “play” one is tracking and honing technique. How can technical mastery be built through play?
Using the environment
Educators can encourage play while simultaneously facilitating learning by creating an environment that guides students to choose activities that we, as educators, want them to choose. Setting up the correct environment, means laying out enticing materials (such as Legos, video games etc.) and gently guiding the student by listening and engaging the learner’s interests. The guide is also “playing” in these moments, connecting to their intrinsic interests and exploring a dialogue of “play and exploration” with the learner. If the facilitator has an active interest in exploring a specific activity, then he/she might as questions or pose challenges, “what if…” statements that probe certain explorations into various games.
Making a game to teach a technique
In addition to using guiding questions that offer various challenges to pique intrigue, educators can directly teach technical ideas through play. If there are particular techniques that are necessary for a student to develop in order to obtain success within certain fields (academic or other), then educators can isolate the elements that formulate the technique, and then use the individual elements to form games. For example, organizing ideas into the traditional five paragraph essay can be a challenging concept to learn. To explore this skill (which is actually multiple skills combined), we can break it down into its composing elements:
- sequencing ideas
- finding evidence
- creating an argument
As an example, one element of this technique is sequencing. With this in mind, can we create a game about sequencing (within any medium).? We can; for example, have the student build a house in Minecraft and talk through how they sequence a room–the door is the opening, the furniture proves the rooms function–in essence the student has structured a room in the way one might structure an essay–an opening introduces the idea and support points prove the idea. Finding connections between play and academic tasks can be helpful; students learn from intrinsic understandings and translate this into academic related tasks. Once a element is explored, educators can use dialogue to reflect with the student how he/she sequenced his/her creation and how sequence is a key to communicating meaning.
WHAT IS THE ROLE OF THE EDUCATOR?
To use play, one must as a teacher, maintain the idea that play is a voluntary process, full of joy and discovery. Because of this, the educator acts as a guide, encouraging various scenarios, setting up an environment and dialogue/reflecting with the student about what is going on. Often times, educators will become stuck trying to fulfil specific rules of a game, until both educator and student are no longer “playing,” but rather trying to get something correct, losing the idea of joy, discovery and voluntary action. Educator and student both enter into a process of play, using structure, but allowing new organizations to be created, enabling the flow of curiosity and pleasure to guide the game forward. It is essential that the educator allow this “chaos” to form around the play and to use dialogue to maintain a awareness of learning and of identifying patterns: what works and what does not.
- Isolate The necessary technique (5 paragraph essay fractions, annotating etc. )
- Analyze the technique, breaking it into composing elements
- Pick on element and make this element into an activity of play (a game with a goal, a creative exploration, a fantastical story).
- Explore this activity (make this fun)
- Dialogue and reflect on this activity, understanding decisions by student, what works and how this element relates to real life situations
- Go back to original technique and either work on another element or use the new found gathered information as a seed to begin teaching the technique (without play).
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF PLAY?
Play can be structured (as in a game) or unstructured (such as in a day-dream). The following types can be incorporated within both structured and unstructured:
- Attunement, establishes a connection between newborn and mother.
- Body, where one explores the way one’s body interacts with the environment. This can be seen in jungle gyms, or utilized in experiential anatomy.
- Object, where one plays with toys, or everyday objects exploring them in games or make-believe.
- Social involves play with others in activities that involve communication: tag, catching a ball, etc.
- Imaginative involves the student creating a fantasy, alone or with others. This can also be done through online universes or video games.
- Narrative is storytelling and develops language and sequencing abilities. One can read to a child or create collaborative stories.
- Transformative, is a type of play where a player re-imagines his or herself in a higher state beyond the present reality. This may involve thought explorations where the player imagines transcending his or her realistic abilities, such as imagining that he or she moves at the speed of light while running, or becomes a bird to lighten up while dancing, or grows deep roots to say grounded while nervous. Through this play, the player might realize various organizations that he or she might apply to life activities. By wondering about things that aren’t yet known, players can bridge unproven ideas with their current body of knowledge, stretching their understanding.
Play is an intrinsic part of learning. Through play, educators can reach a broader population of learners and support life long learning that is joyful and effective. Play supports:
- Flexibility of mind
- Testing “real world” examples
- DIY learning