The Play-Based Learning Movement is Off to a Promising New Start

Topic: Child Development, Early Childhood, Play

We should all hope for a beautiful fall day in New York City on October 3rd when Play for Tomorrow, the consortium of educators, authors and business leaders formed last year kicks off what it terms a new national movement dedicated to play-based learning with its “Ultimate Block Party” in New York City’s Central Park. The group’s co-founder, Kathy Hirsh-Pasek (Temple University), and her collaborators, not least of which is the Children’s Museum of Manhattan, have put together what promises to be a spectacular event that’s sure to draw lots of media attention to the issue of play-based learning. Among the luminaries involved in the event as spokespersons are none other than Laurie Tisch, president of the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund, bestselling children’s book author, Craig Hatkoff, and actress and mother of three, Sarah Jessica Parker.

It’s heartening to see so much momentum develop around the critically important issue of play-based learning — and to see people of the caliber of Hirsh-Pasek involved. The group’s goal is to create a groundswell of public support for play-based learning across the country and the world. Accomplishing that goal could go a long way toward addressing the harmful loss of human potential that is the result of reductions in time children spend in the various forms of play that are critical to learning and creativity. For this new movement to succeed it will be important to think broadly about play and its unique ability to get children engaged in more sophisticated thinking and problem-solving. Parents and educators alike must be made aware that not all play is created equal. When play is used as a reward for things like doing household chores, it may not contribute to learning in any meaningful way, especially if that play is devoted to activities like playing mindless electronic games rather than children involved in scientific explorations or interactive media. When teachers or other adults are present in settings where children are playing, it’s important for them to be aware that they can support children’s play in ways that lead to building skills like abstract thinking, self-regulation and spatial reasoning. Maintaining the play movement’s newfound momentum while also delivering the resources for more playful learning in America’s schools and homes will pay dividends the value of which are difficult to over-estimate.

So join me in Central Park on October 3rd if you’re in the area. If you’re not, go to the website and learn how to get a block party organized in your city.

Let the games begin!

–Ellen Frede

Co-Director, NIEER