Playful Learning

I have long been an advocate for playful learning. I write about it, teach teachers how to be more playful and game-like in their work and strive in my own teaching practice to use playful approaches to stimulate student interest and engagement. Free/democratic schools like The Open School are particularly gifted at developing a playful habit of mind in students, because teachers at The Open School, like teachers at all free/democratic schools, exist first and foremost to serve the needs of the self-directed student learner.

Recently, students at the Open School have taken to playing a lot of a classic card game called Magic: The Gathering. First published in 1993, Magic: The Gathering is the first collectible card game. Pokemon is another good example. These games require students to master a daunting rules set (the comprehensive rules set is more than 220 pages long) and assemble decks of cards from five different schools of magic (and from thousands of different cards) to work effectively against decks built by other players. Magic: The Gathering is a deeply rich source of learning for students because its playfulness advances a vital learning goal – the ability to think logically and rationally.

In his book Free To Learn, Peter Gray writes at length about playful states of mind. He notes that English experiments into the capacity of young people to solve logic puzzles demonstrate that when complex problems are placed in a clearly playful setting (like a pretend or imaginary world) children as young as four have no trouble whatsoever solving tricky counterfactual syllogisms. This is precisely the kind of thinking that Magic: The Gathering and other playful learning modes induces. Just have a look at what OpenSchool ten-year-old Taeho Lee says about Magic: The Gathering in his interview with Tay Parker on March 7th. He notes that black and blue are the best colors to combine. He says: “Blue is about trickery and manipulation, black is about power. The worst is white and red. My brother plays white and red and he loses every time.” While I can’t disagree with him (I play almost exclusively blue and black decks when I play Magic), I feel confident that he could learn something by playing white and red. And to the great credit of the students, faculty and staff of The Open School, if he wants to give that a shot, he’s going to have that shot. And while he’s experimenting with white/red Angel decks or giving the Strawberry Shortcake build a try, he’s learning mathematical reasoning, philosophical reasoning, problem solving, pattern recognition and becoming a good sport while he’s at it.

Why not schedule a visit…and bring along a great white/red deck while you’re at it!

Jonathan M. Cassie, Ed.D. is the Director of Curriculum and Innovation at TVT Community Day School in Irvine and a board member of The Open School.

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