Nov 09, 2022

Play With a Higher Purpose

How a new framework for implementing play can restore social and emotional wellbeing in learning environments.

We recently sat down with the CEO of Playworks, Elizabeth Cushing. Playworks is an amazing organization with a unique mission: to leverage the power of play to bring out the best in every kid.

It’s a big mission, too.

That’s because play is more than fun and games. It’s an essential part of childhood development, improving physical, social, and mental wellbeing in the short term. In the longer term, play instills a lifelong foundation for curiosity, self-esteem, and resilience. Studies show that elementary students with strong social and emotional skills are 54% more likely to earn a high school diploma and twice as likely to graduate from college.

But after the pandemic separated children from the social and physical structures and environments where unstructured play could thrive, their mental health suffered. In fact, students in the U.S. today are showing signs of anxiety and depression more than ever before –– a direct result of pandemic times.

Now that communities are returning to some sense of normalcy, Cushing and Playworks are attempting to restore the sense of play that children have lost over the past three years. In the process, they’re giving us a flexible framework for incorporating play into learning environments.

The Six Simple Principles of Play

Play is incredibly powerful. It’s also surprisingly simple. Playworks, however, sees the act of play differently - as a flexible platform that can adapt to the kids and adults who use it. And to help give educators an easy way to implement it, the company has created Six Simple Principles of Play to create space for open, joyful, and inclusive play experiences.


How to Make Play a Central Part of Learning Environments

With the principles of play set in place, educators need to make play an integrated component of learning environments. But play is varied –– with different forms reinforcing different positive behaviors and outcomes.

Social Awareness & Empathy
Students learn how to interact with their peers and walk in their shoes (not literally, of course).

Positive Relationships
One of the biggest mistakes parents and educators can make is constant intervention and rule setting. Play can encourage children to resolve differences and form better relationships.

The right kind of play can teach children how to think strategically, linearly, and collaboratively. It also challenges them in all the good ways.

Responsible Decision-Making
Believe it or not, play also teaches children responsibility, both individually and collectively as part of a larger group.

Teamwork & Collaboration
It goes without saying that kids who play together learn how to work together. Bringing team games into learning environments fosters the lifelong skill of collaboration.

Play Today, Thrive Tomorrow
While play as a tool for childhood development may not be new, it’s especially critical today as children return to in-person learning environments. Fostering good play at an early age is more important than ever as educators look to make up for lost time.

Interested in creating flexible spaces to support play in your learning environment? Contact Josh Niederman, One Workplace Learning Environments, he'd be happy to help.