White Paper

Learning through play at school

This scoping study seeks to understand the role and impact of learning through play at school. Over the past five years, the LEGO Foundation and partners have examined the body of literature on learning through play and concluded that play is educational when it is joyful, meaningful, actively engaging, iterative, and socially interactive (Zosh et al., 2017). The LEGO Foundation takes a holistic view that learning comprises the full breadth of skills including cognitive, social, emotional, creative, and physical. These redefinitions of play and learning provide the frameworks for this study.

This study seeks to locate the role of play in education. If not play, then what? We distinguish the pedagogies that are the ‘older siblings’ of learning through play, arising from the same constructivist learning theories, and plot them against the key characteristics associated with learning through play as joyful, meaningful, actively engaging, iterative, and socially interactive (Zosh et al., 2017).

We identified eight pedagogical approaches, which we collectively term ‘integrated’, for the evidence of how they combine child-directed, teacher-guided, and teacher-directed learning and align with the characteristics of playful learning experiences. They were also selected based on the breadth and depth of available evidence regarding their effectiveness as strategies for educating children in primary school across a range of learning outcomes.

This study maps the territory of these integral pedagogies. It defines and describes them, offers evidence of their impact, and presents the factors that make them work. It details the broader education system factors that underpin pedagogy and its relation to curricula, teacher education and professional development, learners, parents and caregivers, and communities. It concludes with directions for future research.

Resource Info


Published by

LEGO Foundation

Authored by

Rachel Parker and Bo Stjerne Thomsen


Levels of Learning - Early Childhood Development