DC-Area Playful Schools Network

What does playful learning mean in your context?

This question guides a new project managed by the PD Collaborative that includes over 100 educators from eight local schools. They make up the DC-Area Playful Schools Network (PSN), part of a global effort organized by the LEGO Foundation. The goal of the network is to infuse learning through meaningful play into school culture–from prekindergarten through high school classrooms, as well as in faculty meetings. 

Research indicates that play offers powerful pathways for cognitive, social, emotional and physical development. Given the difficult, often traumatic, times many children and adults have experienced over the past two years, playful learning has the potential not only to re-ignite a love of learning but also to contribute to social-emotional well-being.


Jim Reese, PDC Director, and Cynthia Robinson-Rivers— principal of Van Ness Elementary School (DCPS), now a partner at Transcend, an education non-profit—-lead the initiative. Reese and Robinson-Rivers have collaborated on a number of projects over the last decade.

The year of professional development focused on four “modules,” or areas of investigation, based on Project Zero pedagogical frameworks that are fully compatible with playful learning. They are, in order: Pedagogy of Play, Teaching for Understanding, Visible Thinking, and Agency by Design. Each module consisted of two seminars, led by an experienced researcher/practitioner.

The eight local schools organized their participating educators into smaller learning group cohorts. These cohorts met regularly throughout the school year to discuss ideas presented in the seminars, developed specific criteria for playful learning in their context, and shared lesson plans and experiences with each other. At WISSIT ’22, educators in the network shared their explorations with the broader community.

While there is an academic side to this exploration, there have been frequent opportunities for the participating educators to engage in play themselves, as they consider ways they can bring more playful learning into their practice.


The eight schools involved are Belvedere Elementary (FCPS); Briya Public Charter; Sacred Heart; St. Thomas More; School Within School (DCPS); Van Ness Elementary (DCPS); Washington International; and Washington Yu Ying Public Charter.

In 2022-23, the Playful Schools Network is bringing the school cohorts together from time to time for further investigation into how play supports deeper learning.

Heidi Bachman, the Lower School Division Director at National Presbyterian School, started a new DCPZ affiliated group in October 2022 called Playful Kindergarten Colleagues for all early childhood educators. Their gatherings offer opportunities for DC-area educators to discuss how play supports learning in early childhood.