Reflecting on Play
from Back in the Day

As a kid your imagination is filled with toys, video games, monsters, sports and a room full of blank canvases to allow your brain to explore. When I was a kid growing up in inner-city New Jersey, most of my afternoons and weekends were surrounded by family members and friends.

The first thing I can vividly remember doing as a kid was learning how to play football from my mother and father, who in his past was a 2x all-state high school selection. Early on, I would be out in the neighborhood with my cousins and friends playing street football with my mother watching nervously from the side, praying I didn’t get hurt playing with teenagers three times my size and 10 years older than me. Football remained a love of mine until 7th grade.

My grandmother bought me a mongoose bike, black and orange interior design with black rims and wheels with orange handlebars and pedals. Riding that bike was my favorite thing to do after school, besides throwing the football. You could bet your top dollar I was gonna be riding down the biggest hills, curviest roads, and most dangerous turns every single day.

I once had a bad experience in my playful childhood. I had sandals on, and I was about 6 years old, speeding down the hill on my bike. I noticed I was going too fast and tried to use my brakes, but the speed was overwhelming. I ended up using my sandals and scraped all of my toes and blood was everywhere. I remember sitting in the middle of the street crying and my grandmother picking me up, cleaning me off, and giving me a lollipop. Once I recovered from my gruesome injuries, I did not ride my bike for weeks.

On weekends, I would play video games with my friends and cousins, but my favorite thing we did was play hide and go seek and tag until the street lights came on.

Playing outside and being away from my room was the cool thing to do when I was a kid, and I took every advantage of being active, free, and young as much as I could. Being outside taught me my love for sports and what it meant to be full of life and imagination.




Aamir Simms is a junior at Clemson University and an intern for the US Play Coalition.


Now Accepting Nominations for 2020 Outstanding Researcher and Youth Practitioner Awards

The U.S. Play Coalition is now accepting nominations for its 2020 awards program, recognizing outstanding play research and youth practitioners.

First awarded at the 2017 Conference on the Value of Play, our awards program honors exceptional individuals each year.  The 2020 winners not only receive a physical award, but also have conference fees paid, hotel accommodations and up to $500 in travel to attend the 2020 Conference on the Value of Play: PLAY FOR ALL.  Deadline for nominations is 11:59pm EST on December 15, 2019.

Joe L. Frost Award for Distinguished Research

The Joe L. Frost Award for Distinguished Research is given annually in recognition of a body of exceptional research that has enhanced and expanded the study of play.

Frost is the Parker Centennial Professor Emeritus at the University of Texas at Austin. He is known across the world for his more than 30 years of work on early childhood and children’s play environments. Past president of both the Association for Childhood Education International and International Play Association/USA, he is the author or co-author of 18 books and numerous publications and has also served as a consultant for playgrounds worldwide.

Frost was influential in the creation of the U.S. Play Coalition, serving as a steering committee member since the coalition’s beginning in 2009. He served as a keynote speaker that year at the coalition’s first conference – then called the Summit on the Value of Play –and has been an honorary chair for each successive conference.

YLI Youth Development Practitioner Award

The U.S. Play Coalition teamed with Clemson University’s Youth Learning Institute for the Youth Development Practitioner Award. The award recognizes outstanding performance in the creation and implementation of youth development programs or services. (The nominee does NOT have to be affiliated with Clemson University.)

“There are many deserving practitioners across the nation, and our goal with this award is to bring recognition to this field of service,” said Stephen Lance, executive director of the Youth Learning Institute.


October 30th #WePlayChat: “How Play can Change our Relationship with Diversity and Inclusion”

Join us on Wednesday, October 30 at 9:00pm EST as we welcome co-moderator Brandi Heather, Chief Knowledge Officer of Amped2Play, to discuss the topic, “How play can change our relationship with diversity and inclusion”.

Brandi Heather is an Adapted Physical Activity and Play Development Specialist based in Red Deer, Alberta. As both a Builder and Instructor, she has spent 20 years using accessible play as the foundation of her programming and post-secondary teaching.She is currently Chief Knowledge Officer and Co Founder of AMPED2PLAY INC. where her

expertise and passion for accessible multigenerational play is highlighted in multiple programs including PLAY6S – finding ways for every person to discover and enjoy movement through inclusive play including Adapted DANCEPL3Y.

Brandi is passionate about play and the pursuit of bringing an inclusive lens to all structured and unstructured programming.

Here are the questions that Brandi will lead with us during this chat:


Q1. How can play be a catalyst for change management, resiliency and adaptability?

Q2. How can we create sustainable learning from playful experiences?

Q3. What barriers to do we hear and see when we introduce play as a serious method for physical, social and cognitive change?

Q4.How does Play give the opportunity to build more inclusive communities, schools, sports, and recreation?


#WePlayChat is our monthly Twitter chat for anyone seeking to gain knowledge around the wide open field of play. Launched in 2016, our #WePlayChat participants come from 9 countries, spanning 5 continents – all tuning in to connect around PLAY. #WePlayChat is the largest monthly Play based twitter chat in the world. This FREE professional learning opportunity is a great way to connect with fellow play enthusiasts, teachers and experts from across the globe.

We love sharing the voice of play on Twitter through our #WePlayChat.  We have our chats at different times on different days to get the most involvement across our membership.  You will not want to miss them! Tune in and to join in and contribute to the conversation around the value of play.

US Play Coalition Announces Regional Event in Cooperation with ChiTag

The US Play Coalition’s next regional event is taking on the Windy City!  We are partnering with the Chicago Toy & Game Group (ChiTAG) for their 2019 Play In Education (PIE) Conference: Play as a Classroom Tool, Saturday, November 23 from 10am-3pm at Chicago’s Navy Pier.  Play in Education exists to equip and encourage teachers to fully engage the minds of their students by leveraging the power of play.  Registration is only $25!

According to Mary Couzin, CEO & founder of ChiTAG, “I love these win-win-win-win partnerships!”

Stephanie Garst, executive director of the US Play Coalition agrees.  “Mary and her team with Play in Education are providing professional development opportunities for teachers to embrace to VALUE that play can bring to the classroom.”

Join us at the PIE Conference for a half day of PLAYful learning featuring TWO of our US Play Coalition Play Ambassadors!  Joyce Hemphill will present on “The Power of Playful Learning.” Jed Dearybury will show you how to “Play Your Way Out of the Box!”  And that’s not all!  Explore even more play from experts Mary Kay Morrison and Tim Walsh.


ChiTAG Group
The Chicago Toy & Game Group,  or “ChiTAG” – pronounced SHY-Tag – for short. Founded by Mary Couzin in 2003, we produce ChiTAG Week, a series of events promoting and celebrating play and innovation that welcomes industry, consumers and traditional and social media the week before Thanksgiving.

The U.S. Play Coalition
The U.S. Play Coalition is an international network of individuals and organizations that promotes the value of play throughout life. Formed in 2009, the coalition is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. The coalition is housed in Clemson University’s Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management department, part of the College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences.

US Play Coalition partners with Nickelodeon on the Road to the Worldwide Day of Play

Nickelodeon is inspiring kids to embrace the transformative power of play and lead active lifestyles with its annual Worldwide Day of Play.  The US Play Coalition continues to be a partner with Nickelodeon for this important and FUN-omenal endeavor!

Again this year, the US Play Coalition helped to craft the new Worldwide Day of Play Playbook.  This resource guide demonstrates how kids can amplify their voices in programming and how adults can put those ideas to work.  We hope this guide will help you not only plan your own local Worldwide Day of Play event but ignite the power of kids’ voices in your year-round programming in youth sports, recreation and of course…PLAY!  Find ways to include the power of kids’ voices from the US Play Coalition and other national partners like the Aspen Institute, Kiwanis, Laureus USA, NFL Play 60, Playworks, Police Athletic League NY, and Special Olympics.

Get inspired by WWDoP and plan a Play Day in YOUR community!  It doesn’t have to be September 28 – Play Day can be any day!  Visit for resources like the official 2019 Playbook to help plan your own Worldwide Day of Play activities.

Check out the US Play Coalition’s Road to the Worldwide Day of Play event…!

5th Annual Clemson Community Play Day
Saturday, September 14, 11:00am-2:00pm
Nettles Park, Upper Baseball Field (Geer Field)

The US Play Coalition and City of Clemson Parks & Rec are teaming up again for our annual Clemson Community Play Day as part of Nickelodeon’s Road to the Worldwide Day of Play. Our friends from the Outdoor Lab will be there too!  Join us for inflatables, games, crafts, photo ops and more!!! There will be a designated toddler play space AND opportunities to get wet!!  It’s FREE fun for kids! Pack a lunch and stay for a while!  GET UP, GET OUT & GO PLAY!

Details are on the Facebook event page.  Be sure to mark that you are going so you get updates!


The U.S. Play Coalition
The U.S. Play Coalition is an international network of individuals and organizations that promotes the value of play throughout life. Formed in 2009, the coalition is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. The coalition is housed in Clemson University’s Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management department, part of the College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences.

US Play Coalition Partners with Ithaca Children’s Garden for Play Symposium

We are thrilled to announce our northeastern regional play event!  The US Play Coalition is partnering with Ithaca Children’s Garden for their 2019 Play Symposium, Play for All: Equity, Access, and Inclusion, October 4-6 in Ithaca, New York.  The Ithaca Children’s Garden’s Play Symposium is a gathering for change-makers fostering a culture of play in their communities.

According to Stephanie Garst, executive director of the US Play Coalition, “This is a great opportunity for the US Play Coalition to collaborate with the Ithaca Children’s Garden this year.  Both of our upcoming educational events are themed around Play for All.  And we are thrilled that two of our favorite Play Conference presenters, Corliss Outley, Ph.D and Harrison Pinckney, IV, Ph.D., will give the opening keynote at the 2019 Play Symposium.”

Join us at Ithaca Children’s Garden for three days of sharing, discussion, and play, while learning from local initiatives and play leaders from across the US. Featuring panels, play observation, presentations, and more, Ithaca Children’s Garden Play Symposium is highly relevant for educators, parents, play professionals, parks and recreation staff, city administrators, and anyone passionate about children, education, the great outdoors, health, well-being, social justice, or play.



The U.S. Play Coalition
The U.S. Play Coalition is an international network of individuals and organizations that promotes the value of play throughout life. Formed in 2009, the coalition is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. The coalition is housed in Clemson University’s Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management department, part of the College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences.

Meghan Talarowski Joins the
US Play Coalition Steering Committee

We are pleased to announce that Meghan Talarowski recently joined the US Play Coalition Steering Committee.  Our steering committee consists of 24 leaders from across industry, education and health, all committed to its mission to promote the value of play throughout life. Steering committee members contribute their expertise and insights for the current and future work of the US Play Coalition.

Meghan is founder and director of Studio Ludo, whose mission is building better play through research, design, and advocacy. She believes that play environments in the United States can, and should, be better. Meghan has degrees in architecture and landscape architecture, over fifteen years experience in the design field and is a certified playground safety inspector. Her research focuses on how the design of play environments impacts the physical health and social behavior of children and caregivers.

US Play Coalition Executive Director Stephanie Garst said she is thrilled to welcome Talarowski to the committee.

“Meghan is already a very active member of the Play Coalition, presenting numerous conference sessions (most recently as a keynote panelist!), guest moderating a #WePlayChat on Twitter on “Playable Infrastructure” last fall, and helping to promote the Play Conference to her landscape architect and architect colleagues across the country,” Garst said.

Recently Meghan presented at TEDxPhiladelphia on “Never Too Old to Play: Rethinking American Playgrounds.”  Check it out here!

According to Meghan, “The US Play Coalition brings together diverse people from around the world that are united by their love of play. With every conference and Twitter chat, they help us build a common vision of more playful communities and lives. I would not have found my tribe of likeminded play people without the US Play Coalition!”


The U.S. Play Coalition
The U.S. Play Coalition is an international network of individuals and organizations that promotes the value of play throughout life. Formed in 2009, the coalition is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. The coalition is housed in Clemson University’s Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management department, part of the College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences.

2019 Summer PLAY Reading Review

This summer we are featuring some great PLAY resources for your Summer Reading List!

PLAY is important no matter what season it is…so NO SUMMER LEARNING LOSS here!

Check out this summer’s PLAY reading recommendations that include books on outdoor play, loose parts play, education and play, the brain and play, and inclusive play:


Balanced and Barefoot: How Unrestricted Outdoor Play Makes for Strong, Confident, and Capable Children, by Angela Hanscom

According to Heather Von Bank, “Hanscom’s book advocates for unstructured outdoors play and promotes it as the most optimal way for children to development healthy bodies, minds, and social skills.”  Read on…!


Playing it Up — With Loose Parts, Playpods, and Adventure Playgrounds, by Joan Almon

In August 2017, we published this book review below of Joan Almon’s then-new publication by Debora B. Wisneski, Ph.D. (University of Nebraska- Omaha) with Melany Spiehs and Carol Burk (Omaha Public Schools). As news of Joan’s passing continues to be on our heart, we wanted to include this as a special part of our Summer PLAY Reading Review series.

Upon learning of Joan’s death, Melany Spiehs, one of the co-authors of the review, shared this sentiment: “Joan was such an inspiration and her spirit must live on through us!”  Read the review…


 Wrong Turns, Right Moves in Education, by Deborah Rhea, Ed.D.

This is the new book by our favorite recess advocate Debbie Rhea. Debbie is famous (at least to us!) for her research findings that show that MORE RECESS leads to improved behavior and academic performance in the classroom. This book takes the reader to where it all began – a sabbatical in Finland.  Learn more…


Playful Intelligence, by Anthony DeBenedet, MD

It is a “Back to School” edition of our Summer PLAY reading reviews! Julie Padgett Jones reviews Playful Intelligence, the latest book from 2018 PLAYtalk-er Anthony DeBenedet, MD. As an educator of educators, Julie puts a teacher’s spin on the takeaways from this read! As she says it’s “Playful Intelligence… for teachers. Because playing is fun. And school should be.” Read more…


You Can’t Say, You Can’t Play, by Vivian Gussin Paley

In this  book, Paley describes a year long process of discovering what inclusive play in an inclusive community means by listening to children’s stories, telling her own, and discussing a new class rule for her kindergartners: “You can’t say, you can’t play.”  Read the review…


What are some of YOUR favorite PLAY books and resources???!!
Send your suggestions to


The U.S. Play Coalition
The U.S. Play Coalition is a partnership to promote the value of play throughout life. Formed in 2009, we are an international network of individuals and organizations that recognize play as a valuable and necessary part of a healthy and productive life. Our membership is diverse – including play researchers, park and recreation professionals, educators, health scientists, architects, landscape architects, designers, planners, business and community leaders, psychologists, physicians, parents and more. Membership is free, and simply requires a declaration of shared commitment to the value of play. The coalition is housed in Clemson University’s Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management department, part of the College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences.

Summer PLAY Reading Review:
You Can’t Say, You Can’t Play

Paley, Vivian Gussin.(1992) You Can’t Say, You Can’t Play. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Every summer I teach a graduate course on “Play as a Learning Medium,” and I always recommend that the students read a book–any book– by Vivian Paley. I try to coax them into extra reading by adding that Paley’s books on play are great summer beach or back yard reads. From a graduate student’s point of view, Paley’s books of stories about children’s play in her classroom, seems simple and entertaining compared to their regular diet of scientific research articles and dense theoretical essays.  Yet, while Paley’s stories and reflections on children’s play may seem simple, once one begins reading her stories, one may find themselves reconsidering how they understand children, play, and even the world.

Of all of Paley’s books, my favorite is You Can’t Say, You Can’t Play because it challenges children and adults to rethink how we treat one another.  Paley shines a light on one of the more difficult aspects of free play in early childhood education settings—rejection of others.  Teachers can probably attest to the many times they have observed small groups of children excluding another child.  Or many adults may still feel the sting of rejection from their own memories of their childhood play when a classmate or peer said, “NO, you can’t play with us.”  As Paley acknowledges, “Too often, the same children are rejected year after year. The burden of being rejected falls on a few children. They are made to feel like strangers.” (p. 22)

Rather than accepting this behavior as “that’s just the way things are” or ‘we all must get used to rejection,” Paley calls such reasoning into question.  In the book, Paley describes a year long process of discovering what inclusive play in an inclusive community means by listening to children’s stories, telling her own, and discussing a new class rule for her kindergartners: “You can’t say, you can’t play.”


After observing the same children being excluded from play in her classroom by the same children who do the excluding, Paley recognized that if not interrupted children grow up thinking it is okay for others with more power to reject others. She asks her students,

“Is it fair for children in school to keep another child out of play?  After all, the classroom belongs to all of us. It is not a private place, like our homes.” p 16

In the book, Paley documents the children’s thoughts on this question from kindergarten to upper elementary.  Their thinking about play is quite revealing of human nature and sometimes difficult to hear coming from such young voices.  The children’s play is also documented and reveals how they learn to treat each other more kindly.  In the end, inclusion in play is not resolved by fixing the rejected individual but by a different way in which, “The group must change its attitudes and expectations toward those who, for whatever reason, are not yet part of the system.” (p 33).

Considering the current state of the world today where policies, systems, and rhetoric often dwell on labeling others and rejecting the powerless, the book You Can’t Say, You Can’t Play offers us an alternative way of being that is more inclusive and reminds us of the power of children’s play.


Vivian Gussin Paley is a former kindergarten teacher and a MacArthur Genius Award winner.  She is best known for her storytelling- story acting/play teaching technique and for her many books about the play and stories of the children. Other books she has authored over the years are Wally’s Stories, White Teacher, The Girl with the Brown Crayon, The Kindness of Children and A Child’s Work: The Importance of Play.  A great listener of children and an inspiration for many early childhood educators, Paley passed away this summer July 26, 2019.  “It shall be added to my headstone. ‘Here lies a schoolteacher in whose time ‘You can’t say you can’t play’ was put into rhyme.” (p. 73)

Debora Basler Wisneski, PhD, is a former preschool and kindergarten teacher who discovered the joy of learning through play by using Paley’s storytelling/storyacting techniques. She is currently the John T. Langan Community Chair of Early Childhood Education at the University of Nebraska- Omaha and serves on the board of directors for The Association for the Study of Play.

Summer PLAY Reading Review:
Playful Intelligence …for Teachers

Playful Intelligence… for teachers.
Because playing is fun.
And school should be.

I first met Anthony T. DeBenedet at the 2018 US Play Coalition Conference in Clemson, SC. He was tasked with the role of keynote- slotted to speak just after the lunch hour. With an audience whose stomachs were full of turkey sandwiches, tomato soup, and one (or in my case, three) cookies, Dr. DeBenedet’s task was to inform and entertain. A tall order for a crowd in a food coma.

There were no fireworks.
There was no fanfare.
What did transpire was 20 minutes of endearing stories- a description of Dr. DeBenedet’s path to discovering the qualities of what would come to be called Playful Intelligence.

I felt myself leaning in.
Then leaning back.
Then leaning in again. Elbow on the table- against my Southern Belle upbringing- I was really listening.

I’ve attended many keynote addresses and listened to the hype of many fads, or what critics would call pop-psychology. As a long time educator, I am highly sensitive to these types of talks.

Refreshingly, this event was not what I feared.

Rather, Dr. DeBenedet spoke to the value of relationships- how he was able to study adult playfulness through genuine conversations with his patients. In his theory, DeBenedet extends the interpersonal and intrapersonal aspects of Gardner’s theory of Multiple Intelligences– the knowledge of how playfulness can influence both our inner and outer selves. Of the more than 40 behavioral qualities linked to adult playfulness, DeBenedet found five that may best influence our adult lives.


You might expect imagination to be associated here with artistic or musical expression. DeBenedet did too, but that’s not where he found it popping up. In his work, the quality of imagination in healthy adults manifested in the ability to psychologically reframe difficult situations. Not escaping our struggles, but rather viewing them differently- using imagination to problem-solve and cope. Imagination, when practiced through deep play and daydreaming, increases our capacity for empathy.

Imagination is also a quality that helps us move from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. For example, take a moment to Google “the Einstellung Effect.” This study, which focused on identifying solution bias, showed participants solving a problem based on previous experience even when a better solution exists. Their mindsets were fixed based on the experiences they had been provided.

If we rely too much on our past experiences to solve a problem, we allow those neural connections to strengthen, thus limiting our ability to think creatively.  We use our thought-defaults and get stuck.  When we exercise our imaginations, we reframe problems, open our minds and look at the world a new way.

How many times as a teacher, do we do it the way it’s always been done because it worked one time in the past? Every class I’ve taught has been different and has required different things from us as educators. Teachers with a strong imagination are able to recognize opportunities to follow paths to new outcomes instead of relying on the same ol’ same ol’.


Playful sociability includes the ability to reject a THEM vs. US mentality. Those with the quality of playful sociability see only WE.  Those who embody this trait have a strong sense of egalitarianism, built by the approach to social situations with humility and powerlessness. These people have a way of making everyone around them feel valued. They interact with authenticity, seeing others as humans rather than labels. Teachers who personify playful sociability reject stereotypes, loving their students first and teaching them second.

To truly educate, those with the trait of playful sociability, block labels and listen to student stories.
We must hear them.
We must listen.

These nuggets of authenticity are clues to their needs.

  • Do they need remediation?
  • Do they need challenge?
  • Do they need the connection of friendship?
  • Do they crave leadership roles?

In the medical field, listening is key to diagnosis. In the field of education, listening is key to meeting the needs of our students. In the end, we are all working on the diagnosis of how to be a better human.

In our path to diagnosis, we must beware of the trap of anchoring bias. When we place too much value on initial information (think- data, test scores, grades, last year’s teacher, first impressions), our brain starts anchoring. Once this occurs, it’s hard to adjust our thinking.

Teachers, don’t try to act like y’all don’t know about this… Mrs. Smith the fourth grade teacher runs down the hall at the beginning of every year to tell all the fifth grade teachers about the new batch of “precious kiddos” coming up. Sadly, she never has precious words to say because she just wants to rant about the ones she didn’t like.

Y’all… Shut that down.  Ain’t nothing playful about a gossiping teacher.


Because we recognize humor as laughter, it is the easiest characteristic of the playful mindset to spot. Insert, neuroscience. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The area of the brain that controls laughter is the sub-cortex- the same area that controls breathing and muscle reflexes. The areas of the brain that light up when we experience joy are known as the ventral tegmental area. So, basically we’re looking at the bottom and the back. When we experience joy or laughter, the “pleasure chemical” dopamine pushes from those areas toward the front of the brain (the part responsible for judgment, creativity, and problem solving). Here’s the key. Are you ready? Joy, pleasure, creativity, and critical thinking are connected.

That’s not all.

Our brain’s connective, dendrite-firing awesomeness pairs an emotion with each learning experience. Educators have a choice: we have students potentially shut down from frustration, or we build strong connections by associating learning with positive emotions.

DeBenedet calls this effect resiliency- one of the main benefits of humor.

Another benefit of humor is human connection. The right kind of humor “says to others that it’s safe to explore, play, and nurture a relationship together.” When we use affiliative humor (the kind that puts others at ease, amuses, and improves relationships), we allow ourselves to drop personal walls and engage openly in conversations.

We already know that education is first about relationships, but now you can add humor to that list of essential elements in a successful classroom community.


Spontaneity is the trait exhibited when we do unplanned things, outside of routine. The art of teaching uses spontaneity when we teach in the moment, when we use student questions to follow curiosities to their aha moments. Students trust us to let them explore, and spontaneity allows exploration to take the lead in classrooms.

There’s a science to spontaneity as well; it manifests itself in our day-to-day lives as psychological flexibility- the mental response to the unplanned and unpredictable.

You know those folks who get all bent out of sorts when they get a new student? When they are given a new paperwork task? When their carefully planned lesson goes off the rails? Those folks might need a little practice in rolling with it- in spontaneity.

I’d like to say I’m the kind of teacher who eases through disruptions, but in reality I feel a little scattered. It’s not that I don’t ease through- it’s that I can’t remember where I was before the phone rang, the visitor came, or where my dog-gone clipboard went. It’s like that old saying about lemons and lemonade, if we have the mindset of psychological flexibility- we don’t get rattled. Our students won’t worry what will set us off. We won’t take away recess because we’ve HAD IT! Or throw silent lunch around like glitter.  We breathe. We smile. We reassess, and we roll through.

How do we encourage spontaneity in our students? We can start by giving them opportunities to problem solve. Did someone in the back say PBL? (That’s project-based learning for those who might not know) Yeah, I heard you. Yes. Any kind of learning situation that’s messy and unpredictable (yes, like real life) will do it. Think about how often we ask students to imagine alternate solutions or reframe problems. In personality science, this is called “openness to experience.”

If we’re open, we’ll be spontaneous.
If we’re spontaneous, we have flexibility.
If we’re flexible, we give ourselves permission to create, have bold ideas, and craft new solutions.


You might read this section title and think wonder is the same as curiosity here. While these two can be interchangeable as synonyms, the mindset for wonder here is different.

Curiosity spurs action, but the kind of wonder Dr. DeBenedet is referring to with wonder is the kind that stops you in your tracks. It’s awe. It’s that moment when time freezes and you appreciate the raw emotion in a moment.

Kids experience wonder all the time. They’ll pause to watch a woolly worm make its way up a tree. They’ll turn their heads to the side, mouth falling open as they experience the push and pull of magnetic forces.

The wonder can be seen on their faces.
We know it because their eyes light up.
There may be a grin.
There may be scrunched up eyebrows.
But there’s always a pause.

The pause is when the emotional experience occurs- it’s our brain allowing time to regroup and reflect. Wonder, on a neuropsychological level, is an emotion. I know what you’re thinking here- “Yes! This is great. I’m going to hook all my learners though wonder-ful experiences.” And I do want you to do just that, but if you start making lists of more hooks for tomorrow’s plans, you’ll be going about this wonder bit all wrong. Wonder is not the what of the experience- it’s the how.

The playful quality of wonder is more about focusing on how we perceive our environment than in what we’re seeing. If we keep going bigger and better, allowing our students to experience wonder through the grand and majestic, we’ll cause wonder inflation. Students may begin to depend on the “extra,” and their wonder threshold gets higher and higher.

So what do we do? Easy. We model for our students how we find wonder in the small things. Each experience, each lesson has an opportunity for wonder. Find it, whisper it to them. Your eyes are wide, your voice is low. They’re leaning in… do you see it? Wonder is contagious.

My favorite part

Perhaps my favorite part of DeBenedet’s book is the final chapter. There’s a story he tells that gave me pause. It’s of his encounter and lesson learned from a home visit to Eleanor Schapffer. Seems to me that many educators would benefit from a visit with Eleanor. The lesson you ask? Well, it’s summed up in this [edited] line from DeBenedet’s mentor:

“In the course of your training, you will learn every detail of what we do for [students]. Never forget the power of just being there with them.”

Isn’t that true for us all?

Dr. Julie Jones is the Director for Student Teaching in Converse College’s School of Education and Graduate Studies. She maintains an active research agenda with interests including instructional technology and validated instructional approaches, strategies, and assessments- always with a mix of creativity and play.

Follow her on Twitter @JuliePJones, and view her full curriculum vitae at