Session 215: The Importance of Play

UKEdChat explored the importance / value of whether play has any space within the current education climate. Usually focused within the Early Years of schooling, the opportunities for play appear to diminish as children grow through their primary and secondary schooling being kept “in a state of physical passivity” (Sir Ken Robinson¹). The benefits of play are well documented, but are schools the place where children should be allowed to play?

The session asked the following questions:

(8.01 pm) Q1. How much play do your incorporate into your classroom routine? Should it be exclusive to short breaks and the earlier years?

(8.11 pm)  Q2. How is there capacity for play to feature in all subjects?

(8.21 pm)  Q3. How much control should there be within structured play, at all stages?

(8.31 pm) Q4. What about how play is changing with gaming technology. Does this have the same value?

(8.41 pm) Q5. How can we break the prejudices surrounding the importance of play?

(8.51 pm) Q6. Finally, share any tips, resources or ideas on how play could be further utilised in all schools…

Play has been explored in a previous session of #ukedchat (click here to see), but we were interested to see how this has been developed, and whether attitudes are changing in schools.


There have been an excess of reports and research highlighting the psychological and social benefits of play on children, so this session wanted to explore how (if at all) teachers incorporate play into the school day for their pupils. This was managed using the six questions above, which were released during the session to provoke discussion.

With a packed curriculum, confessions were shared that not as much play is incorporated as much as people would like to see, with ‘games’ being used to help understand mathematical concepts – but more challenging for other subjects. Part of this can be a perception issue, yet it was pointed out that play is vital as a part of learning for all ages – and not necessarily there for ‘fun’.

There was a certain amount of fear of such perceptions from inspection regimes with, perhaps, a feeling that children should be seen to be ‘working’ and objectives being clearly met, but this can be challenged as organised or structured play can easily be justified to support learning. The benefits of play were noted in that it helps children to make rules and negotiating skills, which are all very important and can help raise attainment because of significant amount of engagement – something which inspectors like to see and children like to do. It was also considered that teacher knowledge has a role to play, as those more comfortable will bring play into their teaching and learning strategies.

When talking about structured / controlled play, it was widely felt that the focus should be on what the students do, not the teachers. This is done well in the Early Years, however something that should be learned from EYFS colleagues who manage it successfully so that learning does actually take place. Independence to ‘play well’ gets taken away from children as they grow up, but ‘purposeful engagement’ is key in play, as it is with all forms of learning. In fact, if people have an issue with the word ‘play’, it was suggested that it should be labelled as focusing on ‘exploration’.

Technology was cultivated into the session, as lots of children are seen to engage with tech, and spend lots of time playing online games etc. Some successful examples were shared: Writing based on Angry Birds, TempleRun and Minecraft were such examples.

The discussion moved on to explore prejudices that play should not go far beyond the earlier years, yet these prejudgments were challenged as serving their own agendas relating to social control and based on box ticking believers who feel the need to show evidence for objectives set. This was challenged more as it was pointed out that experimenting, exploring, discovering are all legitimate educational words of which play covers all. The Forest School movement was also longingly mentioned, where children get to explore in a supervised and safe environment where they are free to play.

There is still a reservation about play in valuing it too highly if it comes at the expense of learning, as schools/teachers are measured by a criteria not necessarily set by them, so the choices are very limited. To turn this around – looking at the criteria you have – what ‘play’ opportunities are there when planning and how could this be evidenced? It does not have to be some sort of panacea, but certainly something of value and should be given serious consideration – something all teachers could be pondering when planning. As Theo Kuechel pointed out, “play is always learning to some degree – it’s a strategy – and there is usually an intrinsic purpose”.

Some Play ideas to use in Class:

LEGO, Playdough, Connect 4 Games, domino games, chalked games, origami, multilink cubes, polydron, Minecraft.

Notable Tweets from the Session:

Quite a few tweets from the session stood out, so rather than having a Tweet of the Week, please choose one that resonates with you (More notable tweets are viewable in the Storify further below):


Storify from the Session:



The Importance of Play in Education


¹ Sir Ken Robinson quotation from BBC Radio 4 “The Educators” First broadcast: Wednesday 13 August 2014.

You need to or Register to bookmark/favorite this content.

About UKEdChat Editorial 3188 Articles
The Editorial Account of UKEdChat, managed by editor-in-chief Colin Hill, with support from Martin Burrett from the UKEd Magazine. Pedagogy, Resources, Community.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.