#GeoEdChat 8 with @DanRavenEllison – How can #play be used to improve geographies?

There is a strong link between geography and play. Geography is simply a giant game of hide and seek. Mentally and physically we’ve always played the game. From our first smiles playing peekaboo to the war games (and battles in theatre) that are played out by our military and political leaders, much of our lives are spent searching, evading and finding.

Play can be a powerful way for us to learn about places. Indoor games like The Settler’s of Catan draw from the ‘real world’ and can be an engaging way for us to learn about trade, strategy, inequality and theory (as this game is based on Central Place Theory). With parallels to the famous Trading Game by Christian Aid, indoor (board)games are effective and largely uncontroversial learning tools. A good exception being those created by my good friends at Terrorbull Games (check out the print-and-play games).

Outdoor play is far more controversial than indoor play for some teachers, parents and communities. We all know about the concerns for ‘safety’, curriculum time and other barriers that prevent children from benefitting from outdoor play, learning and exploration. Countries like Scotland have a very forward thinking approach to outdoor learning, but in England, the United States, Australia and other ‘developed’ countries the picture is far more bleak. Despite a raft of evidence revealing the benefits of us (all) having time and space to playfully learn outdoors, too many children just don’t get the right opportunities.

There is much that the professional ‘geography’ and ‘play’ communities can learn from each other. Playworkers, play rangers and playground designers are all inherently interested in creating valuable, meaningful and appropriate places for children. As well as micro-play environments like sandpits, many people in this thriving community are working hard to change the geographies of their communities by creating play streets and helping parents to rethink the real geographies of risk in their local area. Equally, geography educators can learn much from the way that playworkers create opportunities for free play (and learning) and conceptualise how this play can be of benefit to us.

An ever increasing movement of individuals and organisations are working to help the gatekeepers unlock opportunities for us – not just the children – to spend more time exploring, playing and learning outdoors. My work with Mission:Explore, the programme by the John Muir Award, the awesome personal drive of Juliet Robertson with Creative STAR and campaigning by Play England are just tiny sample of what is happening in the UK.

Empty Classroom Day on Friday 5th July is one of the most exciting. It’s a simple idea and one that we should all support. It’s aim is simple – that every school in the UK (I reckon this should say on Earth) there will be an empty classroom and pupils will be learning in their playground, local park, farm, seaside and the great outdoors.

So, my question for #GeoEdChat this Wednesday is this. Given that Empty Classroom Day is just around the corner..

  • How can play be used to improve geographies?
  • What outdoor games can you recommend that help us to learn outdoors?
  • How can play improve the geography of your community?
  • What can you do to support Empty Classroom Day?

#GeoEdChat now takes place for 24 hours every Wednesday with a focussed meet-up at 8pm in your timezone. I’ll be dropping in and out of the chat all day. Tweet with you then?

@DanRavenEllison is a Guerrilla Geographer and National Geographic Emerging Explorer.  He is one of the people behind Mission:Explore, a project to inspire young people to explore, learn and play outdoors. You can follow his blog here.

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