PAJ20_00930A lot of educators use interactive and fun activities as part of their lessons. For me, I had 15 year full-time career working in the experiential learning field where I used a wide range of activities that heightened student engagement and learning, frequently combined with hilarious laughter. I loved the fact that the best description of my work was, “paid to play” or the back-handed compliment I received from one 16 year old girl in an alternative education program that I worked with every week when she said, “this is like PE only it doesn’t suck”.

As elaborate on further within the wisdom in education project with grade 10 PSHE, play is a key to significant learning with regard to creativity, cooperation, communication, among others. Related to those but also distinct from them, play gives our lives purpose, connects us to others, and preserves a sense of drive and optimism. These have numerous knock-on benefits to our overall well-being. Related to that, one of the the themes I have been zeroing in on this year and the main one that I presented on at Project Adventure Japan‘s 20th Anniversary symposium is that the benefits of authentic play and the playfulness that goes with fun activities are not one in the same thing.

It is not through the mere following of playful instructions that people reap the full benefits of authentic play.

As an experiential educator, I had a chance to become a full fledged games master. My participants similarly had a chance to follow the rules set and contribute to the variations we explored and goals we set. This has been powerful but it is not enough. What I have become more aware of recently, however, is that in order to foster authentic play, a mere seed of an idea that then is collectively worked with until a game or activity unfolds, has the most power. It is through the process of presenting and working with that initial idea or “seed of play” that groups of people create, cooperate, and communicate with each other. It is not through the mere following of playful instructions that people reap the full benefits of authentic play. As my teaching and facilitation continues to evolve, I am becoming more suspicious and critical of the rules and more attentive to the truly captivating and necessary elements that make play possible.

In the photo above the seed of play idea was that balloons take time once hit upward to come down. Profound right?? In the first game we played a name game variation where one person hits the balloon up then calls the name of another person in the group. They then need to tap the balloon upward before it hits the ground and call another’s name and so on. From there, any and all ideas are acceptable to keep working with that idea that balloons float to the ground slowly. We tried this with people in pairs and groups of three. We tried using multiple balloons or introducing balloons gradually adding the number of people involved at any one time. We had a great time an pretty soon the original seed of the idea had been blended and reblended so many times it was almost unrecognizable but infinitely better. It is through this process of trial and error, experimentation and refinement that real play occurs and where the real benefits of play exist.