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The power of playful learning

Introvert pic child with legooptmizedIB World magazine previously explored how IB teachers can nurture the power of introverted students in the classroom. In this article, the LEGO Foundation shares how learning through play can help introverted students express themselves

It’s a form of creative expression, it’s fun and most of all it’s crucial to social, emotional, cognitive and even physical development –learning through play is fast becoming recognized as a way to enhance learning and nurture curiosity.

The LEGO Foundation has interviewed some of the leading academic experts on child development, play, learning and creativity to discover what playfulness in learning means. Per Havgaard, Senior Knowledge Manager, and Jill Popp, Research Manager, talk to IB World about how playfulness has been proven to help children gain the self-confidence required to engage in new experiences and environments.

What is playfulness in learning?

Learning through play means that when children are enjoying what they do and deeply engaged in activities that are relevant and meaningful, they remember things for longer and at the same time develop holistic skills for lifelong learning. It usually happens in an environment where the child has opportunities to imagine new things, take risks and share experiences with others.

parachute introvertoptimizedHow can playfulness help children gain self-confidence?

When children are engaged in playful activities, they are empowered to use their individual strengths and engage in experiences relevant for their interest. In this case, self-efficacy and internal motivation are key characteristics of learning through play.

Within a quality play experience, adults help to scaffold and/or challenge the children at their individual level – experiences that over time help build a child’s confidence and curiosity for learning. In addition, a play-based approach is more flexible to different personality types within a classroom, so the curriculum and learning goals may be the same, but the approach to how the child learns can be individualized.

How can playfulness help introverted students step out of their comfort zones?

Usually, introverted students do not find energy in the larger groups and the classroom environment and may become over-stimulated. But playfulness is not only for introverted students, generally different children require different types of learning environments and approaches.

When we address learning as a playful activity, it allows the introverted students to express themselves through projects and competences that they are familiar with and good at. It also allows for choosing more analytical approaches to tasks than group discussions.

Play also helps children learn to regulate emotions and evidence shows that it also supports the development of executive functioning. In this respect, play can support children when they are in situations that are uncomfortable by helping them to regulate emotions and build attention and working memory, which facilitates focusing on a task that would otherwise have been too distracting and/or over-stimulating. It gives them the skills to manage situations without increased stress and discomfort.

Also, play is a good way to practice and build social relationships in a safe and fun environment and may be a medium that is less intimidating when children are out of their comfort zones.

Are there any tools/techniques IB teachers can use to encourage playful learning?

One of the most important techniques is to give children choices. This can be a choice between taking part in a plenary introduction, a self-directed activity to explore things themselves, or to be supported by peers. It also requires that different materials and media allow for students to represent themselves and share ideas in multiple ways. Often, introverts are not necessarily speaking out as individuals, but can let the materials and projects represent their thoughts, or they will sit and observe more quietly and interact through other forms of media.

Little-girls-building-robots-during-science-class-after-school introvert optimizedIs playful learning just for younger students? How can older students benefit too?

Anyone can benefit from learning through play, but it is more obvious for younger children who are limited by their verbal and written language abilities. For older children, this is more about an approach or philosophy to learning in the classroom, where the child continues to direct their own learning at their own pace with support from peers and teachers. There may be an emphasis on cooperative learning right now. However, it should be socially and cognitively stimulating and include time for reflective internal contemplation.

How does modern technology positively affect playful learning and help introverts confidently engage in classroom activities?

For us, it’s not a matter of particular kinds of technology, but about supporting the characteristics of play and learning that have proven to be most effective. For instance, any kind of technology needs to be meaningful to understand and use, in particular for students to express and share their work and ideas. It does benefit multiple ways of creating stories, communicating in different ways etc, but also often becomes a barrier for introverts, not to exercise their boundaries.

Introvert painted hands optmizedHow can IB educators foster a playful environment?

Teachers are very different – some might also be introverts. Finding opportunities and supporting teachers in being curious, testing out different ways of teaching and learning is a critical starting point for them to also provide a flexible space for the students. Introverted students often experience difficulties in being pushed to talk, and the ability of a teacher to create opportunities for choice is critical. Providing a flexible space through guided activities where the learning outcomes and expectations are very clear, but where children can choose the mode of interacting, is very important.

Through play, children often have the opportunity to play different roles and put themselves in other situations. This can happen by supporting workshops where the children are allowed to test out different identities and their own boundaries and also pretend that they do things they are not used to doing. This is critical for developing mechanisms of coping with difficult situations in the future.

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