Opportunities for Play

Imagine a child examining a stack of rocks they found alongside a trail. They go to move one of rocks at the base and the entire structure collapses. The child wonders why a stack of rocks will only stay upright when assembled in certain ways, or how many different configurations are possible, or what a stack of rocks might be called, or why a stack of rocks is called a cairn, or why cairns were developed, or how cairns were used historically and today.

So much of learning is puzzlement. All learners are faced with “incompatible factors within an empirical situation,” as John Dewey says. The cairn tipping over is a real world example of an “incompatible factor within an empirical situation.” These “incompatible factors” naturally incite a process of asking questions and searching for answers. In other words, surprising or puzzling experiences create the stimulus for active learning.

A teacher may watch her student knocking over a cairn and see her pupil engaged in the learning process and see opportunities for further exploration.

Another person may view the student tipping over a stack of rocks and simply see a child playing.

Both people would be correct.

At Summerwood, we are committed to learning through play. We have a dedicated “Adventure Day” each week where we provide our students the opportunity to learn in a nature-based setting. These field days allow our students to explore, examine, form hypotheses and conclusions, create stories, ask questions, craft projects, and provides for truly open-ended possibilities for learning experiences.


The desire to arrive finally at logically connected concepts is the emotional basis of a vague play with basic ideas. This combinatory or associative play seems to be the essential feature in productive thought.
— Albert Einstein, Ideas and Opinions