Elements of a Play-Based Learning Culture

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PostPosted: Sun Nov 20, 2011 9:56 pm
PostPost subject: Elements of a Play-Based Learning Culture
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Play is a human wellspring. It trickles and tumbles out of our biology—a force of human nature that triggers the inner compass to move and engage our minds and bodies. When we cup our hands and slake our thirst in Play, we take in nutrients that civilize and sensitize. Play warms the heart and opens the mind, draws us closer to one’s self and one another. The pulse of play has carried us forward, like a river, for eons. Without the rhythmic beat of play in our emotions, human cognition as well as human relationships would be mechanical and reptilian. We are lucky. Play reaches into us and out of us, seeps into the spaces we adults inhabit, and outward into the everyday choreography we share with the young. We are blessed and anointed in the river of Play. From infancy into young adulthood and throughout life, Play flows in our blood and sharpens our senses.

The Play I speak of here is innate, higher order learning. Such play is largely unadulterated and uninhibited, and can be consciously, unconsciously, or semi-consciously engaged. Hence, play that is fragile, spontaneous and responsive, involving reciprocal patterns of movement, action, thought, or communication, and often accompanied by silliness, surprise, humor, or fun. This behavior, which is shared by young and old alike, may include word play, make-believe, private speech, improvisation, in-dwelling, day-dreaming, doodling, hand- or puppet play, or the uncensored, accidental, manipulation or expression of ideas and imaginings. This order of play depends on a degree of feeling free and safe, and may or may not become subject to the more controlled and organized aspects of play associated with competition, electronic games, directed role-playing, formal theater, and the like. Play of this purest nature, if sustained, will grow more robust and influence a given space to become more productive, civilized, empowered and engaged.

As a learning modality, Play is not, as many believe, appropriate only to very early childhood learning. In fact, it could be argued that, throughout the education spectrum, conventional learning is paralytic, problem-laden, and locked-down precisely because it has cut itself off from the biological roots of human learning—from Play. When the Taliban banned play, it knew what it was doing. For Play breeds self-assertive people who stand and act responsively for themselves. Playful people are not easily duped, ask questions and thrive on challenges. Play is a kind of freedom without which we shrink and atrophy in mind and body. In a Play-Based learning culture, kids learn to grow free and self-propelled.

Play is power, self-regulation, intentionality, thinking, musing, dreaming. By the time a play-prepared learner reaches high school, he or she will have had countless experiences in which the capacity to own and grasp intellectual matter has become second nature. Through the grades, students who experience readings and literature through Play enter high school with minds that have been immersed in imaginative and positive energy, and are open to exploration and prepared for the challenges of advanced material and higher order thinking and writing. Of course we want high school students to embrace literature, but this cannot happen in 10th Grade English unless they have first tumbled with good stories in elementary and middle school, like kittens playing with a ball of yarn. Play not only socializes and opens the mind; it also conditions it to open and accept the challenges of analysis and articulation that thinking adults say they would hope to witness in students of a certain age.

A deeply individual and social influence, Play builds the capacity and love for communication. Play results in an extraordinarily diverse constellation of choice and connectivity for children exploring the world of knowledge. Children who are learning their native language between ages 1 and 5 years pick up the game from their parents and peers during casual interaction and contact—through play; there is no need to force children into a given space to teach them. Regardless of grade level, in a Play-based classroom there is no need to teach the same children the same thing in controlled, drip-fed unison when there is so much to learn from one another.

Play-Based Learning runs lean and economical. It self-develops human resources, resourcefulness, and creativity. No need for a costly superstructure of published, consumable materials sucking the budget year after year. The hum of educational process is based in experience and communication activated and sustained by play energy. Equip classrooms with whiteboards and teachers can have access to all the information, maps, music, and media you could ever hope to have in the Internet-connected classroom. But a teacher who knows how to make a subject come to life through Play holds the key to higher order learning and communication—and a captivated classroom in the palm of the hand.

Play is mental health. Through play we learn to respect, accept, and appreciate one another. Play implies room and relatedness in the world for others. Play does not teach; play reaches intuitively, opens the mind, and creates receptivity. “Play,” remarked my old friend, Paul D. MacLean, the father of social neuroscience, “is the nicest thing nature ever did for us.” Play is human nature at its best. Play is the Brain at its Best—fully integrated. In the ‘play zone.’

Play is charmed motion and interaction. Play activates and lights up whatever it touches: the ball, the hand, the catcher, the thrower, an idea, a word, the heart, the mind and body. The movement inherent in Play is the essence of life empowerment and survival. Through Play we learn to move, respond, change direction, compensate, and balance—mentally, physically, spiritually. The imagination is at home in the playful mind.

Play is conditioning. Play early in life, play in everything you do, and you build capacity for long term health, resilience, and power. A mind and body guided and programmed by play works and reaches out selectively; finds ways to sustain and propel its spirit forward. Discipline, industry, focus, self-reliance are all relatives of Play’s physical and mental heritage.

Play is an invention. The Brain invented Play along with family-related behaviors such as caring, nursing, and parenting. As the springboard for family-related behavior, Play affirms and cultivates our best nature. Play invites us to be imaginative and inventive, thoughtful yet caring and generous of spirit.

A Play-Based foundation to education ensures that classrooms behave in the spirit of habitat—in an environment in which nature propels both young and adult in the course of learning, exploring, discovery, and empowerment. Play is all-inclusive, an antidote to mean-spirited behavior; play helps people feel part of the community and the action.

Play is an antidote to one-way avenues for learning; Play by its nature invites diversity and participation from the ground up—and is, therefore, soil in which to grow behaviors conducive to democratic life. The rich delta soil of Play is level common ground for the garden of learning differences found in the broad population of learners. A Play-Based approach to learning makes the need for special education—a system that removes and segregates children with learning differences—obsolete.

Play leads to innovative models and structures for learning that move us away from the factory farm model.

• Habitat Learning
• Outdoor Learning
• Day and Evening Learning
• Parents and Children and Village
• Cross-Grading and Cross-Pollinating

As an 'organizing principle', Play will lead us to more ‘open culture of learning’. To free access to learning areas, stations, exhibits, talks, stories, and to a broad involvement of citizen educators; structured classrooms for enhanced and rhythmic skill-building; reading experiences of all kinds. Implicit in this freedom is the vision of kids and teachers who interact and connect like bees moving from flower to flower. The path is diverse, spontaneous, selective; kids flow through school and thrive on diversity as well as the individual and shared propagation of knowledge.

• Homework that kids themselves bring home or bring to school
• A flexible and family friendly schedule
• Self-regulated learning and behavior

In the play-based learning culture, children engage in action-based citizenship. They adopt causes, select and pay attention to the actions and policies of companies to encourage good corporate citizenship. From the 3rd grade forward, Play makes it possible for kids to learn the importance of individual power and citizen engagement. Play creates a culture of action.

Play-Based information and knowledge is fun, thought-provoking, and imaginative; organic, healthy food for thought (not like the rote, mind-numbing, dumbed-down textbook readings from the cornflake curriculum).

Children learn that knowledge is built, developed, shared, and crafted into shape with writing, media, and mindful presentation; process is the path; the journey is enjoyed; the end product a positive memory and the work a product of both shared and individual experiences. Play-based learning is not all about the group; the striving for individual excellence and the value of competition is always an option—but not a foundation—of learning that comes as students mature and develop special interests.

Play moves us beyond such antiquated notions as ‘Learning is Hard’ or ‘We must all learn the same thing.’ Or ‘we must all learn together based on age’. Play is effortless, accidental, discovered, practiced learning. Play is not a teacher. Play is self-coaching, a self-affirming friend for life. Play is how we come to love learning—and perhaps to love itself.

Learning infused with Play is learning that happens in the best of all possible worlds. Nature gave us Play for a reason. Play invites us to rise above dog-eat-dog to a more humane and enlightened principle of nature. Nature put Play in place for us to form caring, positive relationships with one another. Play has been kept out of school long enough. We have allowed institutional power to trump the power in the world that invites kids to grow up bold and outspoken; the result: classrooms populated by the all-too-often shy, self-conscious, inhibited, fearful kids, submissive to boiler plate, old-school rules that work in favor of adult manipulation of their world. Play is a birthright. Children deserve nothing less than a learning culture that is aligned with the world-affirming legacy of their very nature, a form of energy that drives spirit, mind, and body.

With Play in the driver seat, school becomes a world into which most parents would like to send their children; an accepting, all-inclusive place that promotes civilized human attributes and enthusiastic social cohesion in the young. With Play in the driver’s seat, parents who have long wished for education that promotes innovative and productive thinking, as well as traditional skills in math, reading, and writing—and who want their kids to learn to learn and love to learn—can finally have their wish fulfilled. With Play in the driver’s seat, school becomes a place that children, parents, and teachers actually come to enjoy and revere. And for Parents who deeply believe that learning is supposed to be hard, Play persuades them as well that learning is meant to be joyful and uplifting—and the key to living a free, expressed, productive and joyful life.

Copyright© 2012 Jeffrey L. Peyton All rights reserved.
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