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Learning Through Play - For Adults

As an early childhood educator I know the importance of play first-hand. Most best-practices early childhood curriculum are based upon designing the classroom and lessons around intentional play. Play for preschool is not just a free-for-all, instead, the teachers incorporate specific learning through play in all the classroom centers. It is so fascinating to watch adults move through these same centers at Curriculum Night and not understand how they promote learning, yet they also often cannot figure out how to use the toys or objects; it is the children who have to show them.

Play is not just laughter and informality. Hallowell (2012) and Bronson and Merryman (2010) define play as creativity. Learning how to be flexible in your thinking, incorporating hands-on learning, and using problem-solving skills are all necessary skills for creative adult play (Bronson & Merryman, 2010; Brown, 2008). Bronson and Merryman (2010) even theorize that creativity measured in early childhood is a stronger predictor of adult success than IQ. This gives much credence to the saying that everything you need to know you learn in preschool!

Creative adult play can also promote social skills, which in turn helps with team building. Nass and Yen (2012) state that "when part of a team, people will feel happier, act more cooperatively, and make better decisions" (loc 1690). Again, we return to the fact that play promotes strong decision-making skills. Being creative also involves the creation of something new, which is what Mezirow (1991) explains as we learn from others' perspectives to create new self-perspectives. This is definitely learning through play for adults.

Brown (2008) stated that adults should have "an altered state, a state of play" [Video]. In my own workplace I am surrounded by five other early childhood specialists. Several times during the day we leave our offices to informally meet in our common area. We do not plan it, it just happens that two people start talking and laughing, then another joins, and soon the entire group is laughing. We may initially just get up to stretch, but often this is the time we problem-solve an issue for our respective positions and staff. We may laugh and get off track, but these informal sessions are usually more productive than any formal meeting would ever be.

We, as educators, are afforded more eccentricities than other fields. Blowing a wand of bubbles to relax or sitting on the floor to sort papers is not generally frowned upon in educational offices. Instead, they are seen as an expression of love of your job and a creative outlet. Go ahead and try it - next time your creative thoughts are stuck, see how a small bottle of bubbles helps you relax and gather your thoughts. If nothing else, curious coworkers will be drawn to your office and ideas can then be bounced off them.


Bronson, P., Merryman, A. (2010). The creativity crisis. Newsweek, 156(3). Retrieved from http://web.b.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.cu-portland.edu/ehost/detail/detail?sid=eccbef84-f552-41c9-88c0-62a178f7f300%40sessionmgr114&vid=1&hid=109&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZSZzY29wZT1zaXRl#AN=52165872&db=a9h.

Brown, S. (2008). Play is more than fun [Video]. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/stuart_brown_says_play_is_more_than_fun_it_s_vital.

Mezirow, J. (1991). Transformative Dimensions of Adult Learning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Nass, C. & Yen, C. (2012). The man who lied to his laptop. What machines teach us about human relationships. New York, NY: Penguin Group.

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