May 1, 2020

Playful Home Learning Series: #7

Jason Blair, guest author

We return this week to our home learning series, examining what playful teaching and learning look like during a time of prolonged school closures. That we are talking about play and playfulness during this global crisis doesn’t mean we don’t take the situation seriously. We are deeply saddened by the ongoing loss of life and continued toll this outbreak will take. Yet as educators who understand the value of learning through play, we feel a responsibility to help playful learning continue for the many children who are at home.


Keeping the playful spirit of the art studio alive

by Jason Blair

When students are in the art studio, creative ideas collide into each other through playful exploration and experimentation.  As a facilitator, I know that playful learning is a way to frame risk-taking and help develop student’s comfort with ambiguity. In the art studio, the act of playing with ideas, concepts and questions helps develop a brave space for learning and growing.  So now that schools are closed for the foreseeable future, how do I facilitate these experiences remotely? How can educators use this moment as an opportunity to rethink our educational practice?  

Each week, as part of their remote art experience, I post a new creativity challenge for our elementary students.  The purpose of these challenges is for students to not only exercise their creative muscles, but also to engage in a playful way with their entire family.  The best antidote for stress, anxiety, and isolation is to connect with others through playful experiences that spark wonder, joy, and laughter.  

These challenges invite the whole family to be active participants in the learning experience.

When designing online playful experiences, 5 key principles became evident to me:

1. Design opportunities for students to play with content through experimentation and discovery.

2. Design opportunities that are student-centered and allow for infinite exploration.  

3. Design opportunities for playful collaboration.

4. Design opportunities for artifact creation and celebration.

5. Design opportunities that take advantage of no schedules or bells

These 5 principles have helped me to create a series of creativity challenges to provide for my students and their families during these unprecedented and uncertain times.  Here are a few examples of what I’ve tried:

The Focus Challenge

Now that you are at home for your learning, you will have lots of distractions around you. How will you stay focused on what you need to do while there is craziness going on around you? What if... you created a short video showing yourself concentrating and staying focused, while the world around you is a bit chaotic and crazy.  
One student’s Focus Challenge Flipgrid video.
Teachers can create a Flipgrid page for students to upload their videos so the whole class can see and comment, or they can just email you directly as well.

The Happy Space Challenge

This challenge is to design a happy space for someone in your home. We all need a space where we can go to find happiness, peace and quiet. One of the best ways to take your mind off of the things we are missing is to design and create for someone else. Thinking of others at times like this can help brighten the days of those around us, and it also feels good to give to others when we are feeling so alone.  Take time to interview someone in your home to gather some inspiration, then create their happy space.  
A still from a student’s Flipgrid video shows a Happy Space he designed for his grandma. Later in the video, he shows his grandma using the space.

Iron Artist Challenge

Gather some simple materials you can create with, like cardboard, junk mail, old fabric scraps, craft sticks, etc. Place them in a basket and put a cover over the basket. Then, find a partner in the house to challenge.  Each person reaches into the basket to pull out a material.  You can select a total of three materials.  Once each person has selected three materials, then the challenge is to make something out of them.  If you want to adapt the challenge, you could also place a basket with noun, verb, adjective and try to create something that connects to the selected words, only using the materials you have selected.  

Dinner Challenge

Before dinner, give each person a napkin.  Tell them they need to create something to wear, using only napkins and tape.  Once everyone is done, you can have a dinner fashion show, to show off the napkin haute couture.

Hidden Emotion Art Gallery

We have all experienced a great deal of emotions these last few weeks. Feelings of sadness, confusion, anxiety, joy, hopefulness, hopelessness (and many others) have consumed us throughout the days and weeks since transitioning to online learning. Sometimes we hide our emotions on the inside and don’t talk about them to others. Create a Hidden Emotion Art Gallery dedicated to making these hidden emotions visible.
This challenge uses the art making process to help start a conversation about how families are feeling right now during these challenging times.

One of the benefits of a remote learning experience is that we no longer need to confine learning into compartmentalized blocks of time.  We do not have to stop at the sound of a bell.  We are free from the constraints of a typical school day, so this can also be an opportunity for transformation.

How might you design for playful learning experiences, while also growing your students' creative capacities?


Jason Blair teaches art to elementary students in grades 1 through 5 at Eli Pinney Elementary School in Dublin, Ohio (USA). If you are interested in seeing PDFs of these activities or would like to see other videos and challenges not included here, he invites you to email him.

Contact information (email)

@_jasonblair (twitter) (website)