NAEA Monthly Mentor: Post 4

Planning for Play

In my first post, I proposed that given the structures of schooling, teachers have to work creatively and subversively to design curriculum that honors the artistic process. I have since described the importance of play and its suspicious absence in art education and want to provide some practical examples of how art educators might make overt plans for including play in our classes.

The National Visual Arts Standards directly identify play as essential in the generation and conceptualization of artistic ideas and work (Anchor Standard 1). Play is represented or suggested throughout the grade level standards, such as:

– VA:Cr1.1.K Engage in exploration and imaginative play with materials.
– VA:Cr1.1.1 Engage collaboratively in exploration and imaginative play with materials.
– VA:Cr1.1.7 Apply methods to overcome creative blocks.
– VA:Cr1.1.HSI Use multiple approaches to begin creative endeavors.

The standards can act as catalysts for lesson planning and assist teachers in defending the importance and value of such experiences, if necessary.

Teachers interested in designing opportunities for play might want to consider how to frame play as inquiry and facilitate a debrief that helps students articulate what they have learned through play. Selma Wasserman’s (1988) Play – Debrief – Play model is one approach to do this and can be applied to learners of all ages.

Consider how allowing students to play with a material might be an alternative to students passively observing a teacher demonstrate a material or technique. Students could have ten minutes to explore a material with a question such as “What can this material do?” or “What reasons might an artist choose to use this material rather than another?” and then report out what they learned.

Another suggestion is to plan a unit based on artistic behavior, such as “Artists play.” Focusing the class on an artistic behavior using artists and resources I’ve mentioned in previous posts makes play not just the vehicle of learning, but also the content to be studied. I appreciate Wasserman’s (1992) unabashed promotion of such a model:

Is it possible that serious play is, in fact, the primary vehicle in which learning occurs? If that is the case, might we consider serious play at all stages of a students’ learning, from kindergarten through graduate school? Given the present climate in education, such a proposal is tantamount to heresy. But what the heck? If you’re sailing on the Titanic, you might as well go first class. (p. 133)


Wassermann, S. (1988). Teaching strategies. Play-debrief-replay: An instructional model for science. Childhood Education. 64(4), 232-34.
Wasserman, S. (1992). Serious play in the classroom: How messing around can win you the Nobel prize. Childhood Education, 68(3), 133-139.