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date: 25 June 2024

The Value of Play in Educationlocked

The Value of Play in Educationlocked

  • Einar SundsdalEinar SundsdalNorwegian University of Science and Technology
  •  and Maria ØksnesMaria ØksnesNorwegian University of Science and Technology


Play has been an interest of philosophers and educationalists since the first academies and a field of scholarly interest for over a hundred years. There is no memorandum of understanding on what is common to all forms of play, neither in a philosophical nor an educational context. Despite this lack of a common understanding of play, philosophers of education have had high expectations for play’s contributions to human life. In troubling times, when philosophers and educationalists assume that freedom is compromised, the future is uncertain and bleak, and there is not much hope for freedom and progress, play is often considered a valuable problem-solving apparatus. Bold claims are made on behalf of play—that it is “the absolute primary category of life,” “the purest, most spiritual activity of man,” and not least that man is “only fully a human being when he plays.”

It is a common assumption that children’s play is a future-oriented practice central to all development and learning in childhood. Play has been valued for its role in the education and upbringing of children based on the belief that through play the child moves forward. This assumption raises important questions about both play and educational practice. When formal schooling is a central part of children’s lives, educationalists ask how play can contribute to the best academic education. Thus, a central question has been to figure out how play can be put to use as a means for reaching certain educational goals, and how play can be organized to best prepare children for further education and development. Most researchers do not deny that play may contribute to a child’s development, but some argue that we have gone too far in assuming the contributions play makes to development and learning. They question whether it is possible to make play work for academic education and suggest that we risk replacing the spontaneous experience of play with a more instrumental version of play where it becomes a skill or literacy. This questioning points to the discussion of when something is play and when it is not play but something else. In addition, the claim that play can contribute to a range of developmental and learning outcomes seems to hinder research premised on the intrinsic value of play.


  • Educational Theories and Philosophies

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