Play in Learning: Teaching and Learning Should Be Fun

by | Nov 18, 2016

Let’s explore an essential question: Why is it important to incorporate the concepts of fun and play in learning? Fun is a relative term. What’s fun for some may not be for others. For instance, some folks enjoy getting up and exercising to have fun. Another’s idea of fun is sitting and doing a sudoku puzzle.

On the other hand, the word “play” in our question is the more important idea, which we’ll go into in more depth later. Ultimately we’ll tie the two terms together to show how learning takes place.

Why Should Learning Be Fun?

When you subscribe to the idea that learning must be fun you automatically feel learning must be tailored to fit every child. This is a tall order; on top of that, when you decide that teaching should be fun, now you’ve got to be able to entertain everyone. Right? Not necessarily.

Play in learning isn’t saying “throw all organization to the wind.” You still need to have impeccable class management skills and be consistent. No one is saying go against your own personality. If you’re an introvert, know that you have a place in the classroom. 

Let’s talk about the “play” aspect of the driving question. Fred Rogers used play extensively in his Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood series. He knew that imagination and make-believe was a safe place for children to engage and learn about themselves.

The Child Life Council has this to say in their document on play in emergency room situations:

“Children from all cultures play. Even in cultures where young children are expected to assume adult work responsibilities, anthropologists cite examples of how children manage to integrate play into their daily tasks. This suggests that play is not only universal but essential to human development.

“Indeed, research has repeatedly shown that the benefits associated with play are profound and wide-ranging. Following a meta-analysis of 800 studies, … there was cogent evidence for the positive impact of play on children’s developmental outcomes.

“Play was found to significantly promote cognitive and social aspects of development and these effects were magnified when adults participated in play with children.”

Play is multisensory. It is tailor fit to each child. Play in learning is also a means of feedback. You can learn much about their development from observing a child play.

Meet “Shaggy”

I was recently inspired to teach my 4-year-old how to play flute a little differently than I’m used to. Instead of instructing him using technical jargon and correcting his deficiencies, I decided to approach it through his world.

He carries around a teddy bear called Shaggy. I said to him, “Why don’t you teach Shaggy how to play your flute?” He immediately took to the task and seemed to enjoy it, making believe that his bear was holding the flute, placing it to his mouth and playing “Hot Cross Buns.”

I asked, “Did Shaggy cover all the holes completely? Did Shaggy bow after he performed? Did Shaggy announce his song before playing? How did Shaggy sound?” With these prompts, my son engaged in an imaginative critique of how his bear “performed.”

Later, when my son was asked perform on his own, he was less fearful and was able to call on those concepts which he taught his teddy bear.

We never lose our desire for “play,” regardless of our age. While our experiences change over time and our imaginations tend to be more geared toward our life situations, it is “play” and connecting to what is familiar and safe that can be a bridge to learning. In this way, learning will never cease to be “fun.”

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