The Canadian Playful Schools Network (CPSN) is the first of its kind in the world.
Funded through a grant from the LEGO Foundation, and headed by University of Ottawa researchers, the CPSN is a newly-established network of publicly-funded schools from across Canada that leverage learning through play in grades 4 to 8 to improve engagement and well-being for students traditionally marginalised by systems of schooling.
Why learning through play?
Play is a highly evolved mechanism for human health, well‑being and development. Play promotes curiosity, creativity, imagination, self‑confidence, self‑efficacy, emotional regulation and expression, as well as physical, social, and cognitive skills.
The LEGO Foundation has identified five essential characteristics of playful experiences that support deep learning. An activity is considered playful if it…
- helps students find meaning in what they are doing or learning;
- enables children to become deeply engaged;
- includes iterative thinking processes like tinkering, experimentation and hypothesis-testing;
- promotes social interaction, and
- is experienced as joyful.
Modes of Play: Green, Screen, Machine and Everything in Between
The CPSN is dedicated to deepening and broadening pedagogies of play across three modes: green, screen, and machine. Everything in between refers to the foundational importance of place, language, and culture in understanding learning through play.
The goal is to improve student engagement and well-being in grades 4 to 8 in order to advance children’s learning and development, especially with and for groups who have been traditionally marginalised from systems of schooling and/or underserved by schools.
Green Play happens outside of human-built environments and enables learners to connect to nature in healthy, adventurous, mindful and restorative ways. Green Play helps learners understand their place in the world, and their responsibilities to the Earth. It enables them to challenge themselves and their bodies through positive risk-taking. Learning through Green Play might include expeditions or excursions to discover ecosystems, topographies, sensitive habitats and natural wonders. Green Play might include learning on the land, gardening, or caring for animals. It might also include risky physical play in the face of challenges that allow students to test their limits. It could include the making of beautiful art with found objects in the forest. Green Play is a proven stimulus for learning and is foundational to well-being.
Screen Play happens on digital devices. It is often collaborative and networked; it is both enabled and constrained by the technological systems on which it occurs. Examples of Screen Play environments include video games, immersive virtual worlds, augmented and virtual reality environments, and creative applications that allow learners to use their digital skills to write, graph, make art, animate, record, edit, curate, and share their work. Screen Play can be undertaken individually, collaboratively with immediate peers, and in virtual networks with learners far away. It might include writing and illustrating a web comic; planning, recording, and editing a video; creating art using virtual reality applications; coding a story; creating digital maps, models, timelines, or graphics.
Machine Play happens in activity with physical materials for varied purposes. Although the idea of “Machine” connotes the building of things that move or do work including robots, or models, or innovations that might solve a real-world problem, learning through Machine Play might also include building musical instruments from recycled materials, or making wearable art that blends physical and digital elements. It can also entail the digital design of objects that can be 3D printed or cut out with a laser cutter. Machine Play often happens in – but is not limited to – purpose-built studio-based environments equipped with some materials and equipment (e.g., art studio, machine shop, makerspace) that enable learners to engage in tinkering, and problem solving. Machine Play can be individual or collaborative.
Everything in Between means that play always takes place in a surrounding environment with distinctive social, cultural and language features. We use language to play. Mathematics is also a language of play. What is playful in one subject, language, or culture, may not be playful in another. For instance, interrupting another student’s ideas is a positive sign of engagement or playful banter in some cultures and languages, but may be treated as bad manners needing better self-regulation in others. Language play, and activities that are rooted in different local and cultural traditions of play will be important aspects of our Canadian definitions of learning through play in schools.