SchoolArts Room


By Nancy Walkup, posted on Sep 3, 2015

Do you consider yourself to have a playful nature? I suspect many art teachers do. I think having a playful approach to both teaching and learning is best for both us as teachers and for our students.

Amy McPartlan and Nancy Walkup in Oaxaca


Do you think a culture can have a playful nature? As I write this, I have just returned from our SchoolArts/CRIZMAC Folk Art & Culture of Oaxaca, Mexico tour, where I was daily reminded of the importance of play for both children and adults in Oaxaca. The giant puppet you see here with me was right down the street from our hotel in front of two folk art stores. These delightful, oversize puppets, accompanied by live or recorded music, play an important role in parades and processions, which seem to happen multiple times every day for almost any reason. During our stay we saw parades of bicycles, parades to celebrate weddings, parades of teachers, and the like.
Color also plays an important playful role in Oaxaca. Buildings are painted bright and contrasting colors (no architectural color restrictions here), tropical flowers and folk art blaze with vibrant colors. Vendors of children’s balloons and toys share the plaza with impromptu performances by entrepreneurial clowns and live bands at all hours.
My experiences in Oaxaca prompted me to reflect on the growing discussion in the United States of the idea of play-based art teaching and learning.  Research and practice are calling for such an approach to counter our test-driven educational system. For example, in a joint position statement, The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education (NAECS/SDE) support play-based teaching:
"Valued content is learned through investigation, play, and focused, intentional teaching. Children learn by exploring, thinking about, and inquiring about all sorts of phenomena. These experiences help children investigate ‘big ideas,' those that are important at any age and are connected to later learning."
Wouldn’t all students benefit from such an approach, not just young children? Teaching with a playful attitude and encouraging the same in your students’ approach to learning can result in so many benefits. It’s a good thing.
Photo by Tom Scales