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photo: Sahar Coston-Hardy
photo: Sahar Coston-Hardy

3 Top Takeaways from Playful Learning Playbook: A New Resource for the Serious Business of Play

Because we can’t take our Early Learning Nation Studio on the road during this time, stay tuned as ELN recaps Top Takeaways from important conversations, panels, town halls and virtual events from the Early Learning field. Read them all and join the conversation! And visit our Early Learning Nation channel on YouTube for interviews with leaders from education, child development, business, politics and more.


On November 19, the Playful Learning Landscape Action Network (PLLAN) hosted an event to discuss the meaning and importance of playful learning landscapes in celebration of the launch of the Playful Learning Playbook. Shelly Kessler (executive director, PLLAN) set the stage, providing an overview of the playbook’s current state and future goals, then turned it over to Susan Magsamen, founder and executive director of International Arts + Mind Lab, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, to moderate.

Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Ph.D (Stanley and Debra Lefkowitz Faculty Fellow in Psychology at Temple University and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution), Roberta Golinkoff, Ph.D (Unidel H. Rodney Sharp Professor of Education at the University of Delaware), and Jennifer Vey (senior fellow at the Brookings Institute) served as panelists. Below are our three top takeaways from the conversation.

1. The playbook is alive and will grow over time. The playbook outlines a step-by-step process for embedding learning goals into public spaces where families gather, and includes information on cost, complexity and the scientific principles of play.

The playbook follows two children on the journey of building the “six c’s” skill sets: collaboration, content, critical thinking, communication, creative innovation and confidence.

“Science tells us that these skills are needed for children to flourish in the future,” Kessler explained. Future expansions of the playbook will incorporate training modules and dive into more details on design elements, community activation, monitoring and evaluation.

👉 Mind Field: Play

2. Playful learning landscapes pair the science of learning and architecture. Playful learning landscapes build on the how of learning. “Kids learn and develop skills from all kinds of play,” Kessler said, “But they learn best when learning goals are intentionally integrated into play at the start.”

When parents, caregivers or the environment can guide play toward a particular learning goal, they are more successful and children absorb information better. “Society thrives when we craft environments in and out of school that support happy healthy, thinking, caring and social children,” Golinkoff said, “Playful learning landscapes invite the informal interactions that fuel curiosity and learning.”

👉 Read more: Designing Everyday Places to Play and Learn

3. Community involvement is paramount. “Our very first step emphasizes the critical role that community plays in co-design, activation and sustainability,” Kessler said in reference to the playbook. “We believe that the community is essential to sustainability and impact.”

This intentionality guarantees that the values, hopes and goals of the project reflect and respect the community members. The playful learning landscapes initiative at Brookings is focused on increasing community and partner buy-in.

“We have a holistic vision where we are bringing economic ecosystems, built environments, social and civic together,” Vey explained, “When we talk about the need for support, by the public sector and others, it means that it has to involve different folks working together to make these projects happen.”

👉 Read more: Playful Learning Promotes 21st-Century Skills in Schools and Beyond

Start here to reference and share the playbook and read more about exciting learning landscape initiatives across the nation.

Mark Swartz writes for and about nonprofit organizations. He lives in Takoma Park, MD, with his wife and two children.

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