Design Thinking & Innovation

Playing to Learn

Play is an invitation to challenge convention and sometimes break rules. Play is the mental quality that facilitates new ideas, concepts and approaches. Play loosens up the mind and lets creativity crowd out convention. During the exploration of materials, structures, and ideas, odd juxtapositions emerge. Inventions and discoveries are often created at this nexus of unexpected connections and combinations.

Take a look at a thriving Pre-K classroom — it is full of play. Groups of students are clustered around centers, fearlessly trying new things out, seeing what works and what doesn’t. They are highly engaged and there is a wonderful buzz of creative energy in the air that is palpable to any adult who walks into the room. Creative design and engineering are part of the child’s world but they are not merely child’s play.

This is learning that works — and will work for all ages if we create the right environment. It is deeply engaging. It feels emotionally relevant.

Students are happily immersed in a culture of trying, failing, learning, trying again. Social interaction and collaborative learning are hand in hand. There is true joy that comes from being a creative individual. It seems like playing, but it is deeply more than that. Learning cannot happen when fully formed ideas are always offered. “Discovering” things science already knows is not complete learning nor is it complete instruction. Play and exploration are the missing ingredients. Some of the best learning jumps out of the epiphanies born of play.

But play is not always comfortable. As students get older, a fear of being judged sets in; some teachers fear “play” as being somewhat out of control, and schools tend to move away from this type of instruction. “Why am I doing this? Am I doing this right? Will this be on the test?” Do these words sound familiar? These anxieties morph into “I can’t do this”, and most students begin defining themselves as, “I’m not a creative person.” This is exactly the wrong path.

At St. Andrew’s, we have a deliberate focus on growing these playing-to-learn skills in age appropriate ways — the right environment, the right skills, the right challenges, the right structure. We need never stop playing to learn and by doing so we become innovators. Across the years, design thinking and experiences help create learning that fascinates and fulfills. St. Andrew’s offers a Preschool through 12th grade perspective on this topic.

We make room for wonder.