Play is at the heart of what it means to be human. In all communities, countries and continents, children, youth and adults alike bring play into their lives in diverse ways. A basic human instinct to play becomes even more profound in our current moment, characterized by instability and fragility, resource shortages, famines and conflict, and mass migration on a global scale. Play is a tool that can be used to achieve development and humanitarian goals, including for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable populations. In particular, play is an innovative pedagogical tool that can be used to improve quality, inclusive education globally.
Learning through play is building skills and understanding through our natural joy of exploring, imagining and creating new possibilities. Children possess an amazing potential to learn from birth. They are curious and imaginative, open to try new experiences and to engage with others and the world around them. Learning through play builds on this potential. It can range from playing with words and numbers in a game, to mastery of concepts and a breadth of skills through quality interactions with peers, adults, and the environment.
During learning through play, children have experiences that are joyful, actively engaging, meaningful, iterative, and socially interactive. These five characteristics are hallmarks of quality playful experiences. In practice, they will ebb and flow and each characteristic may not be present all the time. Over time, as children engage in quality experiences, they will encounter varying levels of feeling moments of joy, being active and absorbed, iterate, establish a meaningful connection, and engage with others. These kinds of experiences foster deeper learning, which is our ability to construct meaning and understanding in ways that allow us to apply them in novel situations. When play is integrated into formal education systems, such as within curriculum reforms or teacher professional development processes, the benefits of play-based learning are institutionalized in ways that can have enormous benefits for systems, schools, teachers and learners. Play-based learning is increasingly recognized as good practice for improving quality education globally. This panel builds on that recognition and works to document ways in which play is effectively being incorporated into education systems in a diverse range of contexts.