Can Playtime Change the World?

Release Date: 
April 10, 2014
Publication name:

By Ashoka Scandinavia, Ashoka Ireland, and Ashoka UK

This week, deep in the heart of LEGOLAND in Billund, Denmark, 500 educationalists convened at the ‘IDEA Conference’ to discuss the growing need to ‘reimagine learning’ for a rapidly changing world. With a keynote from Ashoka Founder and CEO Bill Drayton, the conference launched a 3-year partnership between The LEGO Foundation and Ashoka, which will radically address the role of play in empowering children to become creative, engaged, 
and lifelong learners. 

It’s no coincidence that the origins of such an innovative approach to an ancient tradition stem in Denmark! Across Northern Europe we are seeing an outburst of new models of teaching and learning where creativity and teamwork are central to exploring subject areas, and where leadership and empathy are incorporated into the peer-to-peer interactions and the daily learning experience.

Playful Learning

In over 250 schools across Ireland, and thousands more around the world, children between the ages of 5 and 12 take lessons from a newborn baby. 

From about 3 months of age, the Roots of Empathy baby, parent and instructor team begin a series of classroom visits, guiding young learners through a journey of personal discovery and a greater understanding of their classmates’ feelings.

Having a baby and their mum or dad in the classroom helps teach children to manage their own behavior and response to situations” says Robert O’Leary, principal of Sacred Heart Senior National School, the first to pilot the program in Ireland through local partner Barnardos.

Globally, almost 80% of Roots of Empathy students show increased peer acceptance and 65% show increased pro-social behavior – traits that are touching, but also strategically imperative as these children grow into organizations that are increasingly global and diverse.

Elsewhere in Ireland, a Playworks pilot program is underway in Galway Educate Together National School, with students of 11 and 12 years of age taking on the role of junior coaches, leading a program of active, inclusive play for younger students throughout the school. 

Playworks provides the basis for learning which is necessary for further child development, allowing children to explore their imaginations, to connect with other people and to grow physically, emotionally and socially,” says Bernard Kirk, Director of the Galway Education centre. “Most importantly, the older students learn to lead in the most chaotic environment there is – the playground. Nothing could prepare them better for the future.”

Similar programs designed by Ashoka Fellows are taking place across Scandinavia Forskerfabrikken (Scientist Factory) in Norway creates, connects and collaborates to make science and mathematics fun and engaging for young learners with an aim to stimulate a positive development of science and technology in society. Mattecentrum in Sweden is creating a network of programs that make the learning and application of mathematics in the real world vibrant, exciting, and recognized as a key skill for success in the future. Trivselsprogram (Wellbeing Program) in Norway unleashes the active, playful, and empathetic nature of young people in Scandinavia through peer-based role modeling at recess. A future where young people consider it “cool to be nice” is becoming ever more a reality in schools.

Reimagining Learning for a Changing World

Through financial and enterprise education, UK based Ashoka Fellow Lily Lapenna is working to tackle chronic levels of unemployment in young people. Her organization MyBnk gives teenagers and young adults the knowledge they don’t get in everyday lessons and the life skills they need to stay out of unmanageable debt, to save regularly, to understand how banks work and make the big move into independence. This, coupled with an increasing culture of entrepreneurship is testament to the need for curriculums to greater align with a changing professional landscape. Focused on an older age group, MyBnK’s programmes build on the principles of play with real-life experiential learning.

”Education has a major impact on how society will be structured in the future. If we cultivate core skills of empathy, teamwork, leadership and creativity among young people, we can prepare them to better address change and social challenges as adults.” – Maja Frankel, Director of Ashoka Scandinavia.

We already see the world’s leading companies clamoring for employees who have these skills. Knowledge is no longer enough. We all must be creative, flexible, and empathic problem-solvers. Yet only a handful of the world’s children are consistently provided with the creative learning environments and opportunities necessary to help them develop these skills. Alongside a search for innovations around ‘Play2Learn’ in partnership with The LEGO Foundation, Ashoka are tackling this head-on with the launch of ‘Changemaker Schools’ - an urgent call for systemic change to reimagine what we mean by ‘education’ in a changing world.

How we Reimagine Learning

  • To be playful, creative, and engaging, tapping into young people’s passion, curiosity,imagination.
  • To develop critical skills of empathy, collaboration, leadership, and problem solving.
  • To engage students and teachers as creative changemakers, not passive participants.

Learn about the Changemaker School program in your region:

Scandinavia  Ireland  United Kingdom

Ashoka Scandinavia learns about Changemaker Schools by actively searching in Sweden, Norway and Denmark to identify them and through nominations from you - our community! Nominate schools to the program, by going to our online Nomination Form and download the Program Brochure for details on the value of being a Changemaker School!  

The LEGO Foundation and Ashoka are teaming up in an effort to transform the way the world learns. If you're designing environments where kids and adults learn through play, whether at home, in a classroom, or on a playground, they want to hear about it. Ten star “Players” will be named Champions of learning through play in November 2014, and will receive cash prizes totalling more than $200,000, as well as technical assistance and in-kind support. Up for the challenge?
This article comes in a series entitled ‘Beyond Social Entrepreneurship’ where Ashoka will be commenting in celebration of #AshokaAtSkoll