There is an adage in our culture that speaks to many of us with careers in museums and other informal learning institutions: play is the work of the child. There is little doubt that children are naturally adept at initiating play. When left to their own devices, children gravitate towards a playful mindset; creating games and fantasies from whatever tools they have at their disposal. They find themselves drawn to play as if it was their occupation and there is a great deal of research concerning this tendency as well as its role in the development if young minds. But despite its intention to place a higher value on play, I can’t help but feel that this aphorism leaves something to be desired.
Allow me to elaborate.
What is play? The colloquial understanding aside, it is technically described as voluntary, internally motivated and without direct or apparent material interest or profit. In other words, it is a process of discovery that is born of curiosity. It is self directed by an inner drive to experience and to know. If we synthesize this with our knowledge of the process of learning we can see that play is a key component of the engagement necessary for an effective education. In light of this, I propose the following revision:
Play is the work of the learner.