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Does School Need to be Grim? How Playfulness Enhances Learning

“Playful learning is driven by student inquiry and needs, is meaningfully connected to students’ lives, and fosters experimentation and social interaction.” – The Bookings Institute

Why do we revere playful thinkers, like Socrates, DaVinci or Einstein, while continuing to label playful, active, joyful learning as “soft” education? And who decided that fun in learning – to the extent that it survives in primary school – needs to be stamped out to start preparing middle schoolers for the “real world”?

At Areté, playfulness in learning is an integral part of our education model. We believe playful learning leads to deeper engagement, better retention, creative discovery, authentic motivation, and – yes – better preparation for college and careers. Play, in the form of humor, creativity, experimentation and dialogue, facilitates critical thinking and activates deeper learning. When it comes to true learning, play is not the “icing on the cake,” but rather the cake itself.

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Abuzz with exciting ideas, thoughtful questions, and brainy humor, an Areté lesson harnesses the best of research-based pedagogy and educational artistry.  

Areté’s thoughtful approach to play in education includes:

  1. Student “voice and choice” in tailoring content and approach to assignments, providing outlets for passion and opportunities for meaningful engagement.
  2. The use of thought experiments, in our Great Ideas courses, to provide playful and accessible access to deep perennial questions.
  3. Building general problem-solving skills through a curiosity-driven, puzzle-based approach to math and science.
  4. Empowering learners as experts on different aspects of the curriculum, through presentation, peer teaching, and our senior mentoring program.
  5. Ample opportunities for hands-on learning utilizing our state-of-the-art robotics laboratory, inventors’ workshop, visual arts studio, science laboratory and more.
  6. Project-based learning combining high level thinking with authentic goals and assessment.
  7. Leadership, through our hosting of the annual GameLevelLearn teaching conference, in the gamification and game-based learning movements currently sweeping education.
  8. Humanity, humility and humor as key elements of the Areté Seminar and the school community.


We value play, humor, and curiosity in creating nimble, original thinkers and leaders.

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