Deidre Moore | September 2018

Playful Learning: Arts Integration at its Best

Play-based learning is something in which early childhood educators are well-versed. There are block centers, water tables, dramatic play areas and other centers that are created to foster play. For our youngest learnings, play is their main means of learning. All educators know this. But by the time students reach first grade, many educators become consumed with standards and testing and we stop fostering that kind of natural learning. Research tell us that that is a mistake.

I was looking over the articles I have written over the last 6 years for EducationCloset.  Many of them have to do with play, curiosity, self-directed learning and fun.  That is because we learn when we are truly curious about something and are allowed to follow our curiosity.  We learn when we are relaxed.  We learn when we are having fun.  When our minds are truly grappling with something that has piqued our interest or perplexed us.

There is neuroscience to back all this up but we educators don’t need neuroscientists to tell us this. We are action researchers and we see it in our dealings with children all the time!  We just need to remember that when we get bogged down in scope and sequence charts and volumes of standards to be mastered, space needs to be made for play because that is when deep learning happens.  Arts integration allows for that kind of meaningful play that can engage learners of all ages.

The arts foster play

Of course, play in preschool and kindergarten classes can look different than it does as students mature and have more skills and knowledge at their disposal.  Play may become more sophisticated and more directed as it is more standards-driven, but it does not need to be any less fun!  The arts foster a serious playfulness that can not only lead to pleasurable learning but rigorous learning as well.  According to Early Childhood Australia, there are several typical features of play:

A) while it may involve challenges and frustrations the key feature is pleasure;

B) it involves “what if” thinking;

C) it requires action (physical, mental or verbal);

D) it is freely chosen or open-ended, and;

E) the playing itself is its own reward.

Reading that list reminded me of an article I had written over the years which focused on a musical group called OK Go.  Their hallmark, besides catchy tunes, is incredibly complex and innovative videos.  Any one of these videos could inspire a great arts integration lesson.  I watched the “making of” video behind one of the music videos that they had filmed in zero gravity conditions on a plane. That video addressed the science of creating zero gravity and the art of choreographing for those conditions as well as the math of timing the music into 27 second chunks which is the amount of available zero gravity time that occurred consecutively.

It just made me tingle because here was a group of adults who were playing as previously defined but they were also learning and applying skills and understandings in a unique way that challenged them but delighted them at the same time.  In the interviews and clips you see them integrating music, dance, media arts, science, technology and math.  Arts integration at its finest.

What can Arts Integration do for you?

This is what arts integration can do for our students.  It can allow students from preschoolers up to doctoral candidates to engage in playful, meaningful learning that engages them in the highest levels of thinking and the deepest application of their skills and knowledge that leads to new learning in the most satisfying and lasting ways.  While arts integration may not be the only way to foster that kind of learning in the classroom, it is a research-based way that can make learning fun and rewarding by inviting learners into some serious play.

Check out these other EducationCloset articles that show the power of play at work in arts integration:

Science is Play

Art of Play

Fun? In School!?! 

Life Long Learners – the Ultimate Goal 

Getting Serious About Having Fun

Theatre Games – They’re not just for theatre anymore!

Family Art Night

TASK: Creating Art, Fun and Team Spirit in Your School

From Pictures to Tableau

The Science Behind Curiosity 

Visuals and the Classroom: A Winning Combination 

About the Author

Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.