running outside
Energy,  Experiential learning,  Nature,  Play

The Power of Play

There’s a lot of talk lately about how much we learn through play. Research is showing the impact that free playtime (or the lack thereof) has on our kids, how they think and solve problems, and how they relate in community. (Here’s a great overview of some of these ideas.) Lately I’ve been interested in exploring how to integrate play into my curriculum.

At Living Wisdom, our teachers plan lessons and lead the flow of the day – the form of the day is teacher-directed, not student-directed. And yet, all the lessons are inspired by the students, their interests, passions, and needs, yet keep in mind the academic requirements appropriate for the age level. My question is, how can we best use play in this form?


Each class has one shorter and one very long recess at Living Wisdom, which can be up to 45 minutes long. There are entire worlds and stories that are created in that amount of time. Each week, we take a field trip to the Laurelwood Retreat Center in Gaston, and we spend at least 1 hour of free play on the land. New and complex games arise during that time in a completely different playing area. None of the areas at Laurelwood have playground equipment – the students create these worlds with the sticks and acorns and leaves they find.

My plan for the Primary class this year is to observe what is arising during these play times and base the next unit of study on that. Recently, a game emerged that involved coyotes one week and wolves the next. The game continued for a few days once we got to school. So, we started a unit on Canines. The students are extremely excited to be studying wolves, coyotes, and especially dogs, which is an animal that they know and love.


In the past, we watched as students became fascinated by holes in the ground. They created an entire game where they were detectives searching for the hole makers. So we spent many weeks studying underground habitats and the animals that live in them. There was another moment when the students became entranced with a fascinating mushroom. So, we ended up studying fungus.

In this way, school becomes a place that is naturally linked with their most alive passions and curiosities. They come to see that their own interests are the source of learning and that wisdom can be alive!

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