Learning by Playing

Recent psychological research indicates that we learn best when we’re “playing," not when we’re “working." Peter Gray ’s extended essay on the virtues of play is well worth reading…

“One of the main purposes of play in our species, I think, is to promote our use of imagination to solve problems. We appear to be the only animal that thinks in imaginative ways. Imagination provides the foundation for our inventiveness, our creativity, and our ability to plan for the future. I believe that our huge capacity and desire for play came about, in evolution, partly to promote our capacities to invent, create, and plan. When we allow children ample opportunities for real play, we are providing them with opportunities to exercise and develop those capacities. When we allow ourselves to take a playful attitude in our work and domestic life, we are providing ourselves with a context for solving problems that might otherwise be intractable."

“Play, by definition, is activity that is psychologically removed from the real world. It is activity for its own sake, not activity aimed at some serious goal outside of the play itself such as food, money, gold stars, praise, or an addition to one’s résumé (see posting on the definition of play). When we offer such rewards to children who are playing, we turn their play into something that is no longer play. Because play is activity done for its own sake rather than for some conscious end outside of itself, people often see play as frivolous, or trivial. But here is the deliciously paradoxical point: Play’s educational power lies in its triviality."

“Play serves the serious purpose of education, but the player is not deliberately educating himself or herself. The player is playing just for the fun of playing, not for anything else; education is a byproduct. If the player were playing for a serious purpose, much of play’s educative power would be lost."

Read The 4-Part Series: The Value of Play

Part I: The Definition of Play Provides Clues to Its Purposes

Part II: How Play Promotes Reasoning in Children and Adults

Part III: Children Use Play to Confront, not Avoid, Life’s Challenges and Even Life’s Horrors

Part IV: Play is Nature’s Way of Teaching Us New Skills

Are you playing enough? Can you think of ways to convert your “work" into play? What do you do just for the fun of it?

Read more essays by Josh Kaufman →

Published: May 20, 2009Last updated: May 20, 2009

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