Cloe Shasha

Associate Content Producer, TED


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What do young people learn from playing?

TEDxYouthDay ( is a month away!

More than 105 youth-focused events are happening around the world between November 19th and 21st.

These events will vary widely in size, format, and theme, but they will share a common vision: inspiring curiosity, igniting new ideas, and empowering young leaders.

This year's global theme is "Play, Learn, Build & Share."

While these are all separate ideas, they are also highly interconnected.

What are your thoughts about what young people can learn when they play?

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    Oct 21 2011: I still play on a weekly basis (if not more).
    Being a die-hard board & social game player, I love playing games... it never died.

    So what can you learn from games?
    (aside from Jane McGonigal's talk, which concerns PC play)

    - You learn what rules are, and why they exist.
    - You learn that having "house rules" (changing the original rules, or adding new ones) is a great thing
    - You learn that you can lose and still have a good time. You learn to lose!
    - You learn that victory is much better when you don't cheat. (You learn to lose!)
    - You acquire meta-game insights, that gives you a great knowledge of strategy, rules and consequences of actions
    - You can imagine and create a temporal world that is clearly bounded (by the time and play-field) and gives you a break from reality... allowing to experiment roles and tactics you would not dare to in real life
    - You build trust with the people you play with (they all agree to obey the same rules) and learn to collaborate.
    - A lot of games can serve as a metaphor of real life
    - If you see how relative rules are, and that this also applies in real life, you develop a level of relative thinking and open mindedness.
    - Seeing real life as a game has great advantages (can make it fun, lets you see how much people can get stuck in the "rules" of society and not being able to step out of it, thinking it is all that serious, while it is only a construct)
    - Depending on the from and content of the game, you can learn about a lot of things that are important in real life (edutainment games, educational games, developing knowledge in different areas,...)
    (I can go on for a while)

    Playing and creating games with and for other people is so much fun! Not only for young people.
    Anybody who thinks games are only for youth are so wrong, and miss a fundamental truth in life... not playing games is not more mature... it is a (terrible) loss
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    Oct 22 2011: This reminds me of John Hunter's TED talk on the World Peace games!

    Learning by playing is learning by doing. Experiential learning. And I think since lots of young people are prone to explore, discover, and simply ask the hard questions (like "why" just for the sake of it), I think it allows self-discovery away from rote memorization and abstract theory.
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    Oct 21 2011: Hi Christophe, I love this list! Your points are really good -- especially the fact that games can serve as a metaphor for real life. We learn how to navigate the world through play.
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    Oct 19 2011: Children learn so much from playing. In the early stages called coplay they learn spatial relations, coordination for their muscles, and social things like acceptable distances to stand in relation to another. As time goes on they develop turn taking, eye contact, cooperation. Play is something adults should revitalize in their lives to improve creativity, spontaneity, and joy.
  • Oct 18 2011: I think the school system and our society underestimate the importance and effectivness of including play component in its activities. Not only youth but kids in elementatary school could learn and develop so much more if they learned through play.

    What young people learn from play? I think they learn to work well with others (teamwork), be brave to experiment, adapt to change, improve their creativity etc. As a bonus they will find new friends and have fun!
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    Oct 21 2011: Hi Ani, thanks for pointing out that games can in fact be crucial for teaching youth new information!
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    Oct 21 2011: I think for everyone playing is having fun. and learning is a long, sometimes boring posses. As a teacher I almost always use games during my lessons for involving all the class into the learning possess, during that time they learn more than the time we do ordinary lessons, Games really help us to learn more useful information. So when we join these 2 possesses, i.e. learning and playing games, we have the biggest result we want to have.
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    Oct 19 2011: Hi Debra, yes agreed that adults need to play too!
  • Oct 19 2011: Creativeness, personality traits,social behavior. Give a child some paint and a paint brush to play with, and they just might be the next great artist. Given them the right "things" to play with, and those "things" could become the tools to help in their development of those three common visions.
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    Oct 18 2011: Hi Erin, those are all good points. It's true that there are lots of different definitions of play.
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    Oct 18 2011: Hi Zdenek, I very much agree with your claim that play helps people learn teamwork!
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    Oct 18 2011: I think it depends on what you mean by playing? I think youth learn a lot from playing. For instance, playing with classmates they are learning how to build relationships. If they are playing capture the flag, they are learning how to develop strategies and working with others. If they are playing on an organized sports team they are learning once again strategies, and team work. If they are playing with an instrument, they learn discipline.