Designing an Environment of Play

Blog Home  |  March 11, 2019 by Willowstone Academy  |  no comments  |  From the Office


Recently, our CLO – Karine Veldhoen has been leading our Learn Forward village into an inquiry about the importance of play.  In her blog, The Essentialism of Play she writes, “Psychologists and developmentalists have a variety of definitions of play and it is often associated with ‘fun.’  One of the most significant aspects for me is that play must be free from the drive towards outcomes. In other words, it is not work.  We’re not trying to win, achieve, complete, or gain. In schools, we love to facilitate these conditions and our design must hold this intention.  We want students to lose themselves in the joy of exploration, curiosity, and engagement. From there, the motivation is intrinsic.”

Our Grade 3 classroom has been an enchanted environment during the past few months, full of enticing images that have fostered curiosity and play.  Entering it, you see that it has been transformed into a place where Fairy Tales have come to life.

The first visual noticed is the castle on the wall, with a very long braid trailing out one window, and three different sized bears alongside a blonde haired little girl.

Looking around the corner, a beanstalk appears, with giant shoes coming out of the ceiling.

Taking a closer look around the room, three little pigs appear who seem to be a little shy (or perhaps afraid) of something or someone lurking about!

One of the  little pigs is in disguise, looking a lot like a wolf!

Why does a teacher take the time to transform a classroom into an environment that is playful, interesting and fun?

Well, here is why I do it:

  1. I was created to create.  I love making just as much as my students do.  I get the same thrill of seeing a tiny seed idea of mine come to life, grow and develop.  I enjoy playing too. When I create an environment that invites a playful mindset it makes me feel happy.  (Which by the way is a Creative Thinking Core Competency – “When I play I get ideas and that makes me happy.)  This applies to adults as well.
  2. It makes coming to work during the winter a whole lot more enjoyable.  The long, dark days of January and February do not weigh me down nearly as much when I am able to spend my time in an environment that encourages imagination and curiosity.  I have enjoyed adding to the magic after reading each fairy tale by introducing something new. The anticipation of what will appear next helps to brighten and warm up our classroom – even on the coldest, darkest days of the year.
  3. It encourages creativity and makes working fun!  Who wouldn’t rather respond to a text by writing about what they would find at the top of beanstalk – on a leaf shaped paper that is then taped to a beanpole?!

According to Kimberly A. Gordon-Biddle, author of Early Childhood Education, “The way the physical environment is designed and configured influences how children feel, act, and behave. The physical environment allows growth and development through activities and materials…”   My students have embraced the work that we have accomplished this term with open arms and excitement because the “play” has made the work fun.

It is really important for children’s brain development. Dr. Deborah MacNamara, author of Rest, Play, Grow states in her book, It’s Not Just Child’s Play,  that, “Moments spent in play are a luxury and are only present when the relational needs of the child are being met. These times are critical for brain development as it is where children form neural networks that are involved in problem solving and creativity. Children who lack environments that foster play actually have brains that are 20 to 30% less developed in capacity. Play is not empty time; it is how children build the brains that are required for work and learning. The type of play that their brains need is where the energy is coming from within the child to construct, build, create, and so on. This type of play is called emergent play and in this state you see curiosity, imagination, and sense of discovery in full action.”


I am so proud of the Grade 3 students and they way that they have fully engaged in the many creative writing opportunities this term…without even realizing that it was actually hard work.

When playful attitudes are modelled and invited, curiosity, creating, and play are a way of being.  The work that we have to do is no longer a chore, but rather a delight!

Kaleb and his edible house up against the Big Bad Wolf
(Big Bad Blow Dryer Challenge – 2019)

With Love in Learning,

Mrs. Draper, WA Educator + Instructional Coach