Creating a Culture of Play [with Jess Amato]

The ‘Creating a Culture of Play’ workshop on April 20th, 2023 centred around the work of Platform to Play, an organization that has worked with K-6 educators across 30 Ottawa schools on cultivating playful learning. Jess Amato, the founder of Platform to Play, led discussions of the barriers faced by educators and schools interested in cultivating playful learning, and how to sustainably integrate play and recreation based in the classroom.  

The first portion of the workshop was focused on the main goals involved in emphasizing and implementing playful learning in schools: recognizing what teachers are already doing to engage students, building a network of administrators that value play, provide resources across grades and schools to learn from each other, provide educators with individualized support for their classrooms.  

Next, Jess addressed inclusivity as one of the most important aspects of implementing play / creating a playful learning culture in schools.  She referenced how schools are becoming much more aware of addressing students’ varied needs academically, and that philosophy should be applied to any activities meant to increase engagement. We should ask ourselves how activities can be modified, what kinds of equipment we need to make an activity accessible to everyone, how best to instruct the activity.  

The third focus of the workshop was the importance of play in social emotional learning…and vice versa. A few participants in the workshop brought up how it was emotionally and socially difficult for many students to distinguish between recess time and playful learning time, and Jess offered a multi-pronged suggestion based on how kids thrive from structure:  

“…any way that we can help differentiate between purposes, what our focus is, is going to help support the students in what is expected of them in any given moment…the structure could be the physical process you take for going out to recess…and when it’s outdoor learning time…the way you line up…structure could be something that’s verbally provided…a saying…or certain activities that are only recess activities and certain activities that are only outdoor learning activities…”  

Before drawing the group together to participate in one of the “playful learning” activities, Jess provided and explained some excellent online resources: e.g. Playing Along, a book of group activities based on improvisation and creativity, and PlayMeo, a website that allows educators to select activities based on learning outcome or skill development!  

About Jess Amato

Jess Amato, a nationally certified recreational therapist and community developer, is the founder of Platform to Play, with a mission to create awareness, autonomy, and explicit opportunity for play for all. Jess provides professional learning and development and program development to schools domestically and internationally. Through the philosophy of recreational therapy, Platform to Play fosters inclusion and guides individuals and communities in achieving their highest potential.