Professor of Play: Formalizing the connection between learning and play
Play provides children important motor, perceptual, social, and neutral benefits - often described as children’s “most important work”. Despite the important role of play in the learning process, schools are allocating less time for free and open play in favor of activities that ‘teach to the test’. This deprioritization of open play is a missed opportunity to prepare kids for academic success. Cambridge University’s newly-established Centre for Research on Play in Education, Development and Learning (PEDAL), marks an important milestone in educational research: one that formalizes play in educational research and policy.
The timing of PEDAL and their newly appointed “Professor of Play” couldn’t be better. We’re at an interesting turning point in children’s play, marked by increased connectivity and convergence of physical and digital play. The “internet of toys” adds an interesting dimension to children’s play. It’s a dimension that requires research for us to understand its benefits, pitfalls, and uses in education. The pace of play innovation in recent years has far outpaced the pace of empirical research to inform the toys and games that we put in front of our children.
As a creator of children’s media and educational technologies, there are many empirical questions I have about the nature of play, digital technologies, and its effect on child development. Personally, I look forward to the academic research that will inform how I build maximally beneficial products for children. I also look forward to academic research that will help parents and teachers make better decisions for how kids time is spent. As we learn more about play and its role in the educational ecosystem, parents, teachers, and policy makers will be better prepared to leverage children’s natural enthusiasm for play for healthy development and academic success.
Christine Capota, Head of Product, Poptropica at StoryArc Media