By Vince Freeman, President and CEO of Sonar Studios.
“Come on, Papa,” pleaded my 3-year-old granddaughter, “PLEEAASE play pet-shop with me.” Looking down from my book I noticed that she had set-up across the floor three different toy “pet-shop” buildings and had a number of small toy dogs, cats, and other animals spread around them. Unable to deny the combination of her please-infused pleading and her hazel-blue eyes, I set down my book and climbed down onto the floor.
For the next hour or so we were both lost within the play world of the pet shops—creating relationships between various animals, infusing imagined personalities amongst the characters, and creating storied scenarios on the fly. I took the opportunity to teach and reinforce the concept of numbers, colors, and categories. My granddaughter ate up the instruction, and enjoyed the learning experience immersed within this fantasy-laden interaction.
But beyond this time of teaching and interacting with my granddaughter, I was aware that there was something else going on within me. I wasn’t thinking about work, the things I needed to do around the house, or what the Colts needed to do with the first draft pick. No, something deep and primal was going on within me that was refreshing my spirit and imagination in a way it hadn’t been refreshed in a long, long, time. I wasn’t just teaching my granddaughter, I was playing. And I liked it.
It instantly reminded me of my own childhood experiences that helped me learn new physical skills, develop social interactions, and open my mind to new content and experiences through a “playful” spirit.
Today’s fast-paced, performance-engaged world seems to have forced open-ended, self-directed play out of our lives. There are no longer woods and fields to explore, and forts to build. Informal neighborhood ball games have given way to structured leagues and formal programs. Additionally, with the increasing pervasiveness of digital media, many kids have traded their own imaginations and stories for those of others.
I have been fortunate in my work at Sonar to witness firsthand the connection between immersive environments, game-like interactions, interactive storytelling and student engagement, comprehension, and retention
We are currently working with Conexus Indiana to create an engaging program to instruct the principles of logistics and manufacturing to high school students. We’re creating virtual logistics and manufacturing plants within a gaming platform and hope that through such initiatives there is a renewed and healthy appreciation of the role of play in education and development.
As I finish playing “pet shop” with my granddaughter, I can think of no better goal for us all, and one that doesn’t have to be relegated to fantasy: that we all learn to play, and play to learn.