• The University of Sheffield

Exploring Play: The Importance of Play in Everyday Life

Understanding the nature and value of play through the course of our lives, across cultures and communities.

66,355 enrolled on this course

A playful image of an older woman, a teenager and young girl having fun hula hooping in a back garden next to a swimming pool.
  • Duration

    7 weeks
  • Weekly study

    3 hours

Play is often seen as the natural and spontaneous activity of childhood. When we say that something is child’s play, we usually mean that it’s easy to accomplish and perhaps does not need much thought or effort. But play is immensely complex and certainly not confined to childhood. This course will encourage you to think about play from new and different angles. We’ll discuss definitions of play and current debates about how the nature of play changes. Does play help us to learn? Can it prepare young people to be successful in the adult world? Are all forms of play good for us?

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Skip to 0 minutes and 17 seconds In this course, we’ll introduce you to many different play worlds and play lives that people experience across a lifespan. We will travel to the Museum of Childhood in London to see how play has evolved over time. In Sheffield’s Weston Park Museum, we’ll see how children and families engage playfully with past, present and future worlds and understand how every day knowledge informs playfulness and imagination. Without leaving our seats, we’ll immerse ourselves in virtual worlds, where the boundaries between fantasy and reality are increasingly blurred. Our visits to outdoor spaces in cities, parks and a forest school will show people of all ages engaging playfully with their local surroundings.

Skip to 1 minute and 5 seconds We’ll consider the ways in which spaces can be designed to facilitate or inhibit play and what happens when players try to bend the rules. Play is also the subject of serious study. We’ll have academics from a wide range of different disciplines at The University of Sheffield take you through some of the definitions of play, and discuss current debates about the changing nature of play. For example, does play help us to learn, to prepare for adulthood and the world of work? Do we learn to abide by rules in play, or do we learn to bend or subvert the rules? Are all forms of play beneficial?

Skip to 1 minute and 45 seconds And what about the media panic that children are being exposed to the apparent dangers of digital play? The new knowledge and understanding you will gain from this course might be the inspiration for a career related to play. For example, as a play therapist or play worker. Perhaps you might want to go into the creative industries, as a games designer or developer, as an artist or a designer in the theatre. And of course, being a playful parent or carer is the foundation for bonding, from the very first games of peek-a-boo, to whole families that play in parks and festivals, and in virtual worlds.

Skip to 2 minutes and 25 seconds We also want to persuade you that playing with ideas and possibilities is fundamental to invention and innovation in the sciences, engineering, architecture, mathematics, medicine, business and technology. So you can see that there are some important questions to ask about play, which will help you to think differently about something that we so often take for granted. So the next time you think that something is child’s play, you will know that actually it is deeply serious and significant. And you will begin to understand why the future is playful.

When would you like to start?

Start straight away and join a global classroom of learners. If the course hasn’t started yet you’ll see the future date listed below.

  • Available now

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

Who is the course for?

This course will be of interest to you if you wish to work or study in the fields of psychology, playwork, childhood studies, play therapy, hospital play, teaching, childcare, or if you just want to better understand your relationship with the children in your life and your own play.

Who will you learn with?

We are both Professors who teach and research in the School of Education at the University of Sheffield.



Who developed the course?

The University of Sheffield

The University of Sheffield is one of the world’s top 100 universities with a reputation for teaching and research excellence.

Learning on FutureLearn

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  • Courses are split into weeks, activities, and steps to help you keep track of your learning
  • Learn through a mix of bite-sized videos, long- and short-form articles, audio, and practical activities
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Join a global classroom

  • Experience the power of social learning, and get inspired by an international network of learners
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