Fun and Learning in the ‘Sandbox’

Sandbox Summit 201Last week, the annual Sandbox Summit was held at MIT, up the street from our Boston headquarters. Founded and coordinated by 360PR friends Wendy Smolen and Claire Green, the Sandbox Summit gathers children’s media leaders – designers, educators, media and other experts to share how technology affects the way kids play, learn, and connect. This year’s theme, “Inspirations for Playful Learning,” focused on technology’s role in creating playful learning experiences.

The impressive line-up of speakers, among them Sara DeWitt, Vice President PBS KIDS Digital, Mitch Resnick, Professor of Learning Research at MIT Media Lab, and John Hunter, teacher and creator of The World Peace Game, provided a range of perspectives on how play fuels learning.

“Exploratory play” was a hot topic in many of the sessions. In a similar vein, Alison Gopnik’s recent Slate article, Why Preschool Shouldn’t Be Like School, re-opens our minds about the value of open-ended play – as kids create their own scenarios and solutions in and out of the proverbial sandbox.

So what is technology’s role in imaginative play? In Sara DeWitt’s session, “The Playful Side of Technology,” she discussed how electronic media should spark children’s curiosity and should encourage imaginative play away from the screen. As DeWitt explained, after watching a show or playing with an app, kids will continue interacting with characters that they relate to or are passionate about long after the TV is turned off.

The bar is raised for media companies to think beyond the screen. For those of us on the front lines of communicating with parents, we must be conscious of the broader context of playful learning. We can broaden the conversation beyond a list of app features, for example, to convey the real power of screen-based technology, even when children don’t have a screen in front of them.

Disclosure statement: PBS KIDS is a 360PR client.