Designing for Serious Play

  • Fiona YoungEmail author
  • Genevieve Murray
Part of the International Perspectives on Early Childhood Education and Development book series (CHILD, volume 18)


The value of playful learning environments and spaces that support them has been well documented in early childhood and primary school contexts. The literature in the secondary school context is less extensive, and while there is much discussion outside schooling contexts, little quantitative research is available. Curiously, this is the case even though workplaces that support creativity and innovation through the development of informal learning spaces are becoming increasingly commonplace. The possibility of implementing the use of playful learning environments at the secondary school level may be hampered by a lack of quantitative research to support its benefits. This paper addresses this barrier, reporting on a survey undertaken with the students and teachers of two Australian secondary schools, both of which have traditional and contemporary learning spaces. The survey found that perceptions of ‘play’ and the skills or willingness of teachers were the primary impediments to successfully integrating playful learning environments in this context. Among both teachers and students, there was resistance to using these spaces, which were perceived as failing to provide the necessary solitary, concentrated learning environment required for exam-focused learning. Although less significant than the teacher’s role, the nature of the physical space was a contributory factor to perceptions of its success as a playful learning environment. The key facilitating spatial qualities identified were ease in changing spaces, availability of diverse learning spaces, and inclusion of undefined, nontraditional spaces.


Learning Environment Traditional Classroom Learning Space Outdoor Space Playful Space 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Andrews, M. (2012). Exploring play for early childhood studies. London: Learning Matters/Sage.Google Scholar
  2. Angus, M. J., Evans, K. W., & Parkin, B. (1975). An observation study of selected pupil and teacher behaviour in open plan and conventional design classrooms. West Perth, Australia: Education Dept. of Western Australia.Google Scholar
  3. Barrett, P., Zhang, Y., Davies, F., & Barrett, L. (2015). Clever classrooms: Summary report of the HEAD project (holistic evidence and design). Manchester, UK: University of Salford.Google Scholar
  4. Bower, M. (2007a). Group work activities in synchronous online classroom spaces. In Thirty-eighth SIGCSE technical symposium of computer science education. Covington, KY: ACM Press.Google Scholar
  5. Bower, M. (2007b). Independent, synchronous, and asynchronous – an analysis of approaches to online concept formation. In Proceedings of the 12th annual SIGCSE conference innovation and technology in computer science education. Dundee, Scotland: ACM Press.Google Scholar
  6. Broadhead, P., & Burt, A. (2012). Understanding young children’s learning through play: Building playful pedagogies. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  7. Brown, S. (2008, May). Stuart Brown: Play is more than just fun. TED Talks [video file] Accessed 4 Nov 2015.
  8. Camenzind Evolution, designer of Google Tel Aviv workplace in collaboration with Setter Architects and Studio Yaron Tal. (2012). Accessed 9 June 2015.
  9. Cleveland, B. (2011). Engaging spaces: Innovative learning environments, pedagogies and student engagement in the middle years of school. PhD thesis. Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning: The University of Melbourne.Google Scholar
  10. Cooper, J. (2013, September). Designing a school makerspace. Edutopia. Accessed 8 Nov 2015.
  11. Commonwealth Government of Australia. (2009). Belonging, being & becoming: Early years learning framework. Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations for the Council of Australian Governments, Commonwealth of Australia. Accessed 5 Nov 2015.
  12. Dudek, M. (2000). Architecture of schools: The new learning environments. Oxford, UK: Architectural Press.Google Scholar
  13. Educause. (2013, April). ELI: 7 things you should know about… . Educause Learning Initiative. Accessed 8 Nov 2015.
  14. Goodman, J. F. (1994). “Work” vs “Play” and early childhood care. Child and Youth Care Forum, 23(3), 177–196.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Gordon, R. A. (2012). Playful learning in early childhood. In J. Paul (Ed.), The Illinois report 2012 (pp. 83–89). Champaign: The Institute of Government and Public Affairs, University of Illinois.Google Scholar
  16. Groves, K., & Knight, W. (2010). I wished I worked there! A look inside the most creative spaces in business. West Sussex, UK: Wiley.Google Scholar
  17. Huizinga, J. (1949). Homo ludens: A study of the play-element in culture. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
  18. InQbate: The centre of excellence in teaching and learning in creativity. Accessed 20 Nov 2015.
  19. Kane, P. (2004). The play ethic [eBook]. Macmillan.Google Scholar
  20. Kangas, M. (2010). Creative and playful learning: Learning through game co-creation and games in a playful learning environment. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 5(1), 1–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Kinchin, J., & O’Connor, A. (2012). Growing by design 1900–2000. The Museum of Modern Art [catalogue] p. 16.Google Scholar
  22. Larson, R. W. (2000). Toward a psychology of positive youth development. American Psychologist, 55(1), 170–183.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Livingstone, S., & Sefton-Green, J. (2016). The class: Living and learning in the digital age. New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  24. Moyles, J. (2010). Thinking about play: Developing a reflective approach. Berkshire, UK: Open University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Partnership for 21st Century Skills. (n.d.) 21st century learning environments. P21 Partnership for 21st Century Learning, Washington, DC. Accessed 14 Oct 2015.
  26. Shernoff, D. J., Beheshteh, A., Anderson, B., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2014). Flow in schools revisited: Cultivating engaged learners and optimal learning environments. In M. Furlong, R. Gilman, & S. Heubner (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology in the schools (2nd ed., pp. 211–226). New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis.Google Scholar
  27. Shernoff, D. J., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2009). Flow in schools: Cultivating engaged learners and optimal learning environments. In M. Furlong, R. Gilman, & S. Heubner (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology in the schools (1st ed., pp. 131–145). New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis.Google Scholar
  28. Stonehouse, A. (2011, June). The ‘third teacher’ - Creating Child Friendly Learning Spaces. Putting Children First: National Childcare Accreditation Council (NCAC) Magazine, 38, 12–14.Google Scholar
  29. The S.T.E.A.M Room Fab Lab – About Us.!about/component_74511. Accessed 8 Nov 2015.
  30. Turckes, S., & Kahl, M. (2011, August 9). What schools can learn from Google, IDEO, and Pixar [video file]. Accessed 9 June 2015.

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Hayball ArchitecturePyrmontAustralia
  2. 2.Future Method architectural and design studioSurry HillsAustralia

Personalised recommendations