Read how a three year partnership is set to empower children to become creative, engaged and lifelong learners... through the medium of play.

Today, deep in the heart of LEGOLAND in Billund, Denmark, 500 educationalists will convene at the 2014 LEGO Foundation IDEA Conference  to discuss the growing need to ‘re-imagine learning’ for a rapidly changing world.  With a keynote from Ashoka Founder and CEO Bill Drayton, the conference will launch a three-year partnership between the LEGO Foundation and Ashoka - one which will radically address the role of play in empowering children to become creative, engaged and lifelong learners. 

It’s no coincidence that the origins of such an innovative approach to learning stem from Denmark. Across Northern Europe we are seeing an outburst of new models of teaching and education where creativity and teamwork are central to exploring subject areas, and where leadership and empathy are incorporated into the peer-to-peer interactions and the daily learning experience.

Photo courtesy of Melanie Gordon

Playful Learning

In more than 250 schools across Ireland, and thousands more around the world, children between the ages of five and 12 take lessons from a newborn baby. 

From about three months of age, a Roots of Empathy team comprised of a baby, a parent and an instructor, begin a series of classroom visits, guiding young learners through a journey of personal discovery and a greater understanding of their classmates’ feelings.

“Having a baby and their mum or dad in the classroom helps teach children to manage their own behavior and response to situations,” says Robert O’Leary, principal of Sacred Heart Senior National School - the first to pilot the programme in Ireland through local partner Barnardos.

Globally, almost 80% of Roots of Empathy students show increased peer acceptance and two in three show increased pro-social behaviour traits that are touching, but also strategically imperative as these children grow into leadership roles at organisations that are increasingly global and diverse. 

Elsewhere in Ireland, a Playworks pilot programme is underway in Galway Educate Together National School, with students of 11 and 12 years of age taking on the role of junior coaches, leading a programme of active, inclusive play for younger students throughout the school. 

“Playworks provides the basis for learning, which is necessary for further child development, allowing children to explore their imaginations, to connect with other people and to grow physically, emotionally and socially,” says Bernard Kirk, Director of the Galway Education centre.

“Most importantly, the older students learn to lead in the most chaotic environment there is - the playground. Nothing could prepare them better for the future.”

Similar programmes designed by Ashoka Fellows are taking place across Scandinavia. Mattecentrum in Sweden is creating a network of programmes that make the learning and application of mathematics in the real world vibrant, exciting, and recognised as a key skill for success in the future.

Forskerfabrikken (Scientist Factory) in Norway creates, connects and collaborates with young learners to make science and mathematics fun and engaging, helping to stimulate a positive development of science and technology in society.

Also in Norway, Trivselsprogram (Wellbeing Programme) unleashes the active, playful, and empathetic nature of young people in Scandinavia through peer-based role modeling at recess. A future where young people consider it “cool to be nice” is becoming ever more a reality in schools.

Lily Lapenna

Reimagining learning for a changing world

Through financial and enterprise education, UK- based Ashoka Fellow Lily Lapenna is working to tackle chronic levels of unemployment in young people.

Her organisation, MyBnk, gives teenagers and young adults the knowledge they don’t get in everyday classroom instruction and the life skills they need to stay out of unmanageable debt, to save regularly, to understand how banks work and make the big move into independence. This, coupled with an increasing culture of entrepreneurship is testament to the need for curriculums to greater align with a changing professional landscape.  Focused on an older age group, MyBnK’s programmes build on the principles of play with real-life, experiential learning. 

”Education has a major impact on how society will be structured in the future. If we cultivate core skills of empathy, teamwork, leadership and creativity among young people, we can prepare them to better address change and social challenges as adults.” – Maja Frankel, Director of Ashoka Scandinavia.

We already see the world’s leading companies clamoring for employees who have these skills. Knowledge is no longer enough. We all must be creative, flexible, and empathic problem-solvers. Yet only a handful of the world’s children are consistently provided with the creative learning environments and opportunities necessary to help them develop these skills.  Alongside a search for innovations around  playful learning, in partnership with the LEGO Foundation, Ashoka are tackling this head-on with the launch of ‘Changemaker Schools’, - an urgent call for systemic change to redefine education’ in a changing world. (Read Monday's article)

How we Re-imagine Learning

  • to be playful, creative, and engaging, tapping into young people’s passion, curiosity, and imagination.
  • to develop critical skills of empathy, collaboration, leadership, and problem-solving.
  • to engage both students and teachers as creative changemakers, not passive participants.

Find out more at:

The LEGO Foundation and Ashoka are teaming up in an effort to transform the way the world learns. If you're designing environments where kids and adults learn through play, whether at home, in a classroom, or on a playground, they want to hear about it. Ten star “Players” will be named Champions of learning through play in November, 2014, and will receive cash prizes totalling more than $200,000, as well as technical assistance and in-kind support. Up for the challenge

This article comes in a series entitled ‘Beyond Social Entrepreneurship’ where Ashoka will be commenting in celebration of #AshokaAtSkoll.

Photo courtesy of Will Austin.