Play

A childhood devoid of play is not a childhood. I never thought much about how integral “play” was to my childhood, but after hearing Scot Osterweil give a presentation to my education class yesterday, I have a much deeper appreciation for the art of inspiring play through games.

In his talk, Osterweil discussed the “Four Freedoms of Play,” which unfortunately are stifled by the traditional school structure:

  1. Freedom to Explore
  2. Freedom to Fail
  3. Freedom of Identity
  4. Freedom of Effort

Although these four freedoms are not generally found in schools, they are actually quite inducive to learning. Osterweil’s projects are founded on the idea that by engaging children in play—actual play, not just educational content disguised behind some game mechanics, we can give children opportunities to learn and to enjoy themselves while doing it.

Games like Lure of the Labyrinth and Vanished create learner-centered environments by building on the knowledge that children already have. These games validate the kids’ identities and train the children to see themselves as learners. They set students up for success rather than knock students down with each new concept introduced.

Osterweil also introduced us to the concept of Fermi problems, which are estimation problems that involve making guesses about certain quantities. The example he gave was “How many cups of coffee are consumed in a day in the US?” The idea is that students can pool together their knowledge and come up with a reasonably accurate guess. It gives students the opportunity to think about not only what they know but also how they know it. It’s beautiful.

This sort of organic learning environment reminds me why I love outreach programs. With outreach programs, there isn’t as much pressure to conform to a predetermined set of standards and teaching methods. As a teacher, I can choose to teach with whatever tools I want, which usually means figuring out what the kids enjoy and finding random ways to remind them that learning can be fun.

Side note: I thought it was interesting how my acting teacher also stresses the importance of “play” in theater arts. I think this lines up especially well with “Freedom of Identity” since acting involves committing oneself completely to an entirely different character or identity.

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