May 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Fun First: Make Learning Better with Play | Editorial

Photo by Rebecca T. Miller

It’s easy to see the necessary intersection of play and learning when thinking about how babies and young children engage with the world; play enables them to gain all the skills they need as they grow. Early learning is critical learning, and it often involves fun.

As you explore SLJ‘s July Early Learning package, you will find plenty to work—and play—with. You’ll discover insights and tactics, and fun, in our coverage of first breakthroughs in ­communication via sign language (“Show Me a Sign, Baby!”), the classic and ever-dynamic storytime for everyone, and ways to better serve English language learners (“Beyond Bilingual”). And you’ll find tools, from new ways to incorporate rubber ducks (“Get Quacking”) to “10 Toys That Teach.” The first years of learning, when guided with creativity and care as in these best practices, can be as joyful as they are effective in setting kids up for school and beyond.

While it’s not a new idea that kids learn as they play, adults should take a page from their example and play more as we learn—and, in order to learn. All too often, we take learning very seriously, indeed. We may try to infuse some fun elements into our professional development or networking activities, but it often takes a side seat to the classic presentation formats that populate most of our conferences and convenings. This needn’t be so.

I had never played my way through a professional meeting until I attended the Next Library conference at the remarkable Dokk1 library in Aarhus, Denmark, in early June. This global gathering of librarians focused on innovation is also quite innovative in its approach to conferencing. Interactivity and opportunity for hands-on engagement were deployed throughout each day.

To set an expectation of openness, and provide skill development, Next Library organizers brought in Christian Byrge, associate professor in creativity at Denmark’s Aalborg University. He engaged the group in creativity exercises throughout the meeting, and perhaps most importantly, got everyone having fun together.

Dokk1, the building itself, helped support this ­approach and energy with its features. It is a bit like a playground. Placed dramatically around the exterior of the building on a large platform level are several massive sculptural installations visitors can explore or clamber on.

These dramatic playground pieces are ever-present, in full view beyond the glass walls, and most incorporate large animals such as a meditating monkey in a landscape (pictured above) that, in this instance, included grasses, a hammock, and a big webbed swing. During one interactive session I attended, kids swung wildly on it just outside, introducing a seeming juxtaposition but also a perfect complement to what was happening in our breakout groups.

That experience spurred me to remember ­playing, and encourages me to try learning a bit more like kids do. We might just learn better. And, we might just become better at teaching them ourselves, through the joy of it all.


Rebecca T. Miller

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Rebecca T. Miller About Rebecca T. Miller

Rebecca T. Miller ( is Editorial Director, Library Journal and School Library Journal.

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