Why play is important?

Play is no less than the basics of humanity. By Friedrich Fröbel, one of the pioneers of play education, play is one of the most basic development factors of human beings. “While playing a child learns the basic qualifications of social behaviour.” (1) said Lothar Krappmann, founder of the interactionistic role theory. Through that he emphasizes the huge social potential of play. Albert Einstein on the other side points out the creative-innovative aspect of play and states “Play is the highest form of research”.

From the perspective of the psychology of learning and also confirmed by latest results of neurobiological research, one-sided, merely cognitive intercession of knowledge has already proven to be insufficient in education. According to the “Commemorative Pyramid” by Felder, children remember only 10% of the content by using cognitive methods, whereas it is about 90% if using direct action oriented on the experimental learning process following a “learning by doing” concept. Consequently, sustainable learning requires an interactive learning process, which recognises the human being in its wholeness (body-mind-soul) as the famous educator Heinrich Pestalozzi would say.


New Games education and play theory:

The “New Games Play Movement”, developed in California/USA in the early 1970s and meanwhile spread around the world, rests upon four principles which ensure sustainable learning processes and facilitates a positive social interaction between human beings. 1.) “Everybody is it”: Every player is responsible for the game to succeed. 2.) “Power of Play”: The joy experienced together during a game is more important than winning or losing. 3.) “Spirit of Play”: The positive attitude for the fellow players is oriented towards the guidelines “play hard – play fair – nobody hurt” 4.) “Rules are flexible”: In the centre is the human being with its capabilities and needs. The rules of a game are always flexible.


Nature education:

Joseph Cornell’s “nature education” facilitates sustainable learning experiences within the context of human and nature, in particular for children and teenagers. An emotionally lasting “Flow-experience” develops in a serious pedagogically four-step model. Within this model the method of interactive games constitutes a substantial element. The steps are: 1. Show enthusiasm. 2.) Have direct experiences. 3.) Facilitate/Reflect your experience 4.) Exchange the impressions, “A joy shared is a joy doubled.”


Successful play

If the method of interactive games is to succeed in the context of a sustainable perspective of humanity, the participants have to meet certain requirements. Among others “respect” is needed, meaning an appreciating positive attitude towards the fellow players and participants. Further a certain amount of “discipline” in following the agreed rules is required as well as. Finally and most important to play games well the participants need to have the capability of “being in this very moment” of the game here and now, where past and future remain secondary.

Succeeds the game the desired effects happen immediately and cause a “change of perspective” in our thinking and acting. In this way a holistic and sustainable intercession of knowledge is possible as well as innovative strategies of problem solving.




Target group

Up to a certain age children have a natural approach to play. In later stages of life it is necessary to find adequate activities and interactive methods according to the age group and capabilities. For grownups well-chosen games open up a new approach to the often concealed inner child and a sustainable and creative learning process is possible.


Everyday (providing guidance in everyday decision making)

Through play the intercession of knowledge can happen more easily and concretely through a hands-on approach. A meeting in Finland provided a good example: During the meeting we had an extraordinary day in the forest together with 10year old school kids and a forest-educator. The forest-educator began by asking the children what one should not do in the forest. Throwing away paper and rubbish the pupils answered. Sometime later after rewarding them with a candy for a well done game he asked them for their candy wrappers. Not a one of them had thrown it away, all of them had got it in their pockets. This is a simple but practical example for how you can transfer important knowledge about sustainable and ecological behaviour by play. The kids found the correct answer and implemented it directly in their everyday life. Is this just coincidence?


More links:



Impact (providing support in monitoring individual environmental impacts, e.g. via environmental footprint)

We see playing a game as a holistic educational approach. Our assumption is that playing games improves the chance to change things beyond cognitive knowing only.

It helps to translate experiences into action in our everyday life. But does it really help to change our behaviour? The above mentioned example (see chapter everyday) about the candy wrappers is only a brief example of what can happen. However, evaluating whether the new teaching method actually affects people’s lifestyle in a way that makes it more sustainable is hardly possible by monitoring their behaviour only. A quantification of the impact is necessary and going to be a challenging task! Therefore, aspects of life which are measurable have to be checked in order to evaluate the success of teaching through play. One example for such a measurable indicator of our ecological behaviour is the carbon footprint which demonstrates how our lifestyle influences the output of greenhouse gas


The shown result can also initiate a will to change behaviour. But as we know – it doesn´t work the way just to know the facts.



Continuous learning


Playing games opens people’s eyes and shows them the meaning of sustainable living by real hands-on experiences. Nonetheless, this is only the first step. The key task is getting people enthusiastic about the topic in such a fashion that makes them want to educate themselves further. The concept of learning through play provides a large potential to facilitate that as playing makes people gather and brings them into contact. While playing a game, people interact and solve problems jointly what makes networking happen. While interacting, groups sharing common interests can form. Just like every other task, pursuing the goal of continuous learning becomes easy when being in a group of like-minded people.


Providing for forming interest groups is a big step towards the goal of continuous learning. Another key task is conveying softskills. Being open-minded supports the process of continuous learning as it makes people sensible to new ideas and viewpoints. Game-playing lets participants change perspective. It teaches them to project their thoughts into different situations and roles like the EcoCity role play in Portugal impressively demonstrated (Link: EcoCity). Doing so promotes developing empathy as well as a more open way of looking at things in general. Furthermore, playing together stimulates openness and curiosity towards new views. Getting people involved with each other makes learning fun and supports the learning success, consequently.


What we have to ask ourselves is whether a one-time training is sufficient to put an effect on people lasting enough to spark them to continue learning on their own. It is well possible that further trainings have to be offered in order to increase the share of people willing to continue on this topic. What we certainly do not want to happen is that people drop out just because of a lack of offers for further learning possibilities.


Bridge (bridging the gap between knowledge and action)

A playful approach opens the possibility to pass knowledge through practical action, it takes learning from an abstract level to a tangible level. Action and the experience of the consequences imparts knowledge and offers a new learning experience. Other than the traditional way of teaching which transfers theoretical knowledge the student is supposed to translated into actual action, playing interactive games allows a reverse learning experience: Through hands-on action and demonstration of its consequences the student gathers practical knowledge of cause and consequence with an immediate touch on his everyday life.




(1) Krappmann, Lothar (1975): Kommunikation und Interaktion im Spiel. In: Deutscher Bildungsrat (Hrsg.): Spielen und Gestalten. Primarbereich, Bd.2/1. Stuttgart: Klett, S.45.