Play is central to how children learn — how they make sense of their world, form and explore friendships, and shape and test ideas. When children play, they are in a state of mind highly conducive to learning: they are engaged, relaxed, and challenged. They try out ideas, test theories, experiment with symbol systems, explore social relations, take risks, and reimagine the world. Play can make learning meaningful for children. And because of its potential to support children’s learning, play should have a central place in school.

Much is known about the importance of play in children’s development, yet little research has explored what it might mean to put play at the heart of schooling.  What is the relationship between play and playful learning? What are the core features of a pedagogy of play in classrooms and for a school? How can educators and the broader school community design experiences, curricula, rituals, tools, and spaces for a pedagogy of playful learning?   

In 2015, the Pedagogy of Play (PoP) research project began exploring these questions. Thanks to a generous grant from the LEGO Foundation, faculty and staff from the International School of Billund (ISB) embarked on a participatory research journey with a team from Project Zero, a research organization based at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Together, we are exploring how the ISB community can support and sustain a culture of playful learning.   

Through this research collaboration we are exploring what it means to have play assume a central role at school. While these ideas are being developed with and for ISB, we hope that the practices, strategies, and questions raised may inspire other learning communities to consider the role of play in their contexts as well.