American Journal of Play: Children Learn Best Through Play

American Journal of Play News Release
One Manhattan Square Rochester, NY 14607 585-263-2700

December 6, 2011

For Immediate Release

Contact: Susan Trien, 585-410-6359,
Shane Rhinewald, 585-410-6365,

Children Learn Best Through Play
According to American Journal of Play

ROCHESTER, New York—No one sets out deliberately to learn through play—but play appears to be how we learn best according to a thought-provoking essay by play studies expert Scott G. Eberle in the latest issue of the American Journal of Play. Whether singing our ABC’s as children or practicing mental gymnastics in a game of chess, says the author, play brings delight and sharpens the senses as we acquire new skills.

Eberle, vice president for play studies at The Strong, explores how play relates to and amplifies Howard Gardner’s eight “multiple intelligences,” a theory that respects the diversity of learning styles among children and is revered by educators for toppling assumptions underlying traditional IQ testing. The multiple intelligences that we all have and use in various combinations to know, understand, and learn about our world include: verbal, interpersonal, intrapersonal, logical, spatial, musical, bodily, and naturalist intelligence. Each of these intelligences, says Eberle, is deepened and broadened through the act of playing:  “At the very beginning of our lives we learn language in game-like interchanges with fluent speakers. Later we sharpen our vocabularies with wordplay. We explore the concepts of number and sequence in games. We tune our ears with song, chant, and rhyme. We play with our senses of space and train our appreciation of color with finger paints and computer graphics. We learn to appreciate our orientation, our location and position, and our sense of the space around us by climbing a tree, catching a ball, casting a lure, or jumping a rope. We explore the natural world by scrambling through a leaf pile, snapping a fragrant sassafras stem, chasing an ant with a stick, toasting a marshmallow, or collecting rocks. At play with others, we negotiate our place in the world and sort out our sense of ourselves as we take stock of our capabilities.” (See the full article at "Playing with Multiple Intelligences: How Play Helps Them Grow")

The importance of play in learning is also evident in an in-depth interview with Lella Gandini, the Italian author and teacher and leading advocate for the Reggio Emilia approach to early-childhood education. Gandini tells the American Journal of Play that teachers in the U.S. are becoming increasingly discouraged about the use of standardized testing that guides learning experiences in the classroom to the detriment of play time and recess. In Reggio-inspired schools, children make thinking visible as they draw, sculpt, tell stories, construct theories, make maps, compose poetry, and explore their creativity in dramatic play. The Reggio Emilia approach views learning as a collaborative partnership between teachers and children. Curriculum is guided by the student’s own interests and teachers prepare environments and situations in the school in response to the “gifts of children.” In Reggio Emilia-inspired schools, children are presented many choices and much latitude “based in the deep trust in the richness of children’s desire to learn with pleasure and also the ability children have to acquire initiatives and inventions that come from their shared relationships.”  Learning and play go together, says Gandini, “and should be pleasurable and rewarding experiences for children and for teachers and parents as well. . . .” (See the full article "Play and the Hundred Languages of Children: An interview with Lella Gandini" )

 Additional articles in this issue of the American Journal of Play include:

“Older-Adult Playfulness: An Innovative Construct and Measurement for Healthy Aging Research” by Careen Yarnal, Associate Professor in the Department of Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management at Pennsylvania State University;  and Xinyi Qian, doctoral candidate in the Department of Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management at Pennsylvania State University. Few studies of adult playfulness exist, but limited research suggests that playfulness in later life improves cognitive, emotional, social, and psychological functioning and healthy aging over all. Older adults represent a rapidly growing segment of the U.S. population, underscoring the need to understand the aging process. The authors report on the first three steps of a four-step, multi-method approach to test the hypothesis that playfulness is an important component of healthy aging in older adults.

“Influences of Technology-Related Playful Activity and Thought on Moral Development” by Doris Bergen, Professor of Educational Psychology at Miami University in Ohio; and Darrel Davis, Assistant Professor of Educational Psychology at Miami University. According to the authors there have been many changes in the culture of childhood and adolescence in the past 20 years that have affected both the amount of time spent in play and the types of play that prevail. They describe potential changes in the nature of play related to three new technology-inspired forms of play—technology-augmented toys, video games, and virtual communities—and review the research and theory about their impact on play and on moral development.

 “Fell Running and Voluptuous Panic: On Caillois and Post-Sport Physical Culture” by Michael Atkinson, Associate Professor in the Physical Education and Health Department, University of Toronto. The author revisits classic theories of play in society by French play scholar Roger Caillois in consideration of the increasingly popular practice of fell running among a group of enthusiasts in the United Kingdom. Atkinson describes fell running as an activity partly aimed at the playful pursuit of vertigo, dizziness, uncertainty, and personal disruption. The rugged running sport takes competitors through meadows, river, waterfalls, steep hills, rocky terrain, thickets, bogs, and sometimes around animal herds.  The author explains how this rough and gritty pastime can be considered pleasurable play that participants relish.

The American Journal of Play, an interdisciplinary scholarly journal devoted solely to the study of play, is published by The Strong in Rochester, New York. The journal is available free online at