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, Head of Van Ness Elementary School (DCPS), co-lead the initiative. Reese and Robinson-Rivers have collaborated on a number of projects over the last seven years.

The year of professional development focuses 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 consists of two seminars, led by an experienced researcher/practitioner.

The eight local schools have organized their participating educators into smaller learning group cohorts. These cohorts will meet regularly throughout the school year to discuss ideas presented in the seminars, develop specific criteria for playful learning in their context, and share lesson plans and experiences with each other. Later in the school year, educators in the network will share their explorations with the broader DCPZ community.

While there is an academic side to this exploration, there will be 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.