Daniel Rabuzzi
Jun 28, 2016 · 4 min read


By Daniel A. Rabuzzi

Executive Director, Mouse

(For identification purposes only; opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of Mouse)

daniel@mouse.org @DanielRabuzzi

Originally published May 25th, 2016 at the Partnership for 21st Century Learning’s Blogazine, Volume 3, Issue 4, Number 15.

Pieter Brueghel The Elder, Children’s Games (1560)

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The first of Mouse’s five learning design principles: “Learning loves play.”

The etymology of “play” includes “vigorous movement,” “leap for joy, dance,” “care for / tend to (with devotion),” “compete.”

We are nowhere more serious than at play — the stakes are too high.

“Over the past half century, in the United States and other developed nations, children’s free play with other children has declined sharply. Over the same period, anxiety, depression, suicide, feelings of helplessness, and narcissism have increased sharply in children, adolescents, and young adults.”

Children know what adults forget or ignore.

At play we conquer time — for a while at least.

At play we are Someone Else and Someplace Else and sometimes No Place At All. (Who says a wardrobe in a spare room is just a wardrobe? Or a phantom tollbooth not real? Who can deny that some rabbit holes in fact do become “curiouser and curiouser”?).

“No bored kids!”

Ravel and rivet, paper hats and wings made of wire, the chime of the bell and the tock of the gears, creating worlds on the forge of our learnings.

“Although play is often thought frivolous, it may be essential.”

The “turn to play” over the past few decades — in education, in anthropology, in business — reflects a tectonic shift in social relations.

As we urbanize and digitize, as the cutting-edge of work relies more and more on conceptualizing and collaborating, we seek our way back to shared hunter/gatherer legacies.

Agriculture and especially industry coordinated large numbers of individuals, serried in rows and ranks, supervised and controlled, with clearly defined rules established from on high.

To hunt, to gather, is to collaborate in small groups, with the right (and need!) to set the rules of the game as a group, in response to shifting weather, the vagaries of the terrain, the unpredictability of root and antler, the ambiguities of sight and hearing.

Almost all play feels like hunting & gathering. (Tag, you’re it!) Almost none of it follows industrial-era protocols, which are less and less relevant as work evolves in post-industrial economies.

(Riffing with Philip K. Dick: “Will androids play?” Perhaps the ability to play — or not — will be the frontier between the human and the robot/ AI. Maybe we need a new form of the Turing Test, as we prepare today’s young learners for an ever-more cybernetic future).

Play subverts and challenges specific rules. Most importantly, play redefines order (note this does not mean eliminating order or sponsoring disorder). Play re-orders hierarchy. It “worries the line.”

Hip-hop, Dada, the surrealists, the great soccer teams, the great musical trios and quartets, our most inventive film — and digital games makers…they should be our models as we help young learners learn.

Me, I would put Janelle Monae videos on the curriculum, and those by OutKast, Lady Gaga, OK Go… a very long list, one we could debate in particulars but I’d battle hard to defend the concept.

Bring in Herbie Hancock and Anoushka Shankar, Esperanza Spalding, Vijay Iyer, the work of Kehinde Wiley, Kara Walker and Betye Saar, poetry by Lucille Clifton and Kevin Young.

Matisse’s cut-outs, Sonia Delaunay’s chromatics, Klee and his colleagues at the Bauhaus (as distinct from Gropius and van der Rohe), Motherwell, Twombly, Kapoor…Duchamps and the ready-mades! Calder’s circus!

Parse The Matrix and listen in at Ice Cube’s barbershop.

Artists using playful means to make bone-serious points. Precisely because the points matter deeply, we play to make them.

Formal, institutional education over the past two centuries chose to deride and reject play…perhaps because the facts Education chose to convey were not important enough to merit play.

Messi and his Barcelona teammates with tiki taka, or Curry and his Golden State teammates on the court… real learning takes place in these conditions, as play-work and work-play. How else will we find solutions to the grand challenges that face the species?

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Recommended Resources:

New York Hall of Science’s Design Lab.

Institute of Play


The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop

Jordan Shapiro

Bruce Nussbaum

Peter Jenny

Sketchbook With Voices (Fischl & Saltz)

Tim Brown

David Kelley & Tom Kelley

Cas Holman

Jon Thrower

Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh

Exploratorium (San Francisco)


Puppeteers of America

Deborah Ryan

National Museum of Play and its lead publication: American Journal of Play

Scholarly work by Kathy Hirsh Pasek, Dorothy Singer (also with her husband Leonard), Sarah Fine, Hilary Conklin, Helle Nebelong, Brian Sutton-Smith, Peter Gray, Margaret Honey & David Kanter.

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Technology With Purpose


Technology With Purpose

Daniel Rabuzzi

Written by

Executive Director, Mouse (www.mouse.org).


Technology With Purpose