Parents, caretakers, and education professionals filed into the Vanier Collegiate gym on Wednesday night to hear a seminar by Dr. Sarah Aiono, who travelled from New Zealand to facilitate a workshops series on Play-Based Learning. 

Aiono’s visit was co-ordinated by Laura Adrian, a learning facilitator with Holy Trinity Catholic School Division (HTCSD). On Monday and Tuesday, Aiono taught workshops specifically for professional educators. Wednesday was the free community night, and for the rest of the week Dr. Aiono will consult directly with Holy Trinity on their relevant programs. 

Aiono is a teacher, researcher, and consultant with undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral degrees in education. She focused on Play Pedagogy — the academic study of how teaching and learning happen with and through play. Following many years as a front-line teacher, she is now co-founder and CEO of Longworth Education, which works with nearly 30 NZ schools, and consults all over the globe. 

“The workshops were really well received, we had a full house, we were hauling in chairs into the back of the room, so that’s always exciting,” Adrian said, speaking after the community night on April 24. 

“We also had around 70 (people) who are not direct classroom teachers, but are working with children in other ways, whether it’s at family resource centres, or Aboriginal Headstart Programs, so we had a nice, diverse group in that room, I think, and I heard nothing but positive feedback.” 

Adrian explained that Play-Based Learning is already incorporated into the Saskatchewan education system, particularly in early-learning programs. She herself has been working with Longworth Education’s teacher-focused programs for several years. 

“It’s always an affirmation for us to know that we’re on the right track, connecting neuroscience and the brain and knowing that play is the vehicle for that,” she said. “It just confirms what we know anecdotally. 

“It was really neat to see the different people in the room (tonight),” she added. “I can see the diversity of people that are coming, whether as an educator or a parent ... I see some dads in the room, I see some partners in the room, and I see people that are working in many different ways with children and families, so I think that was really exciting to see.” 

“I loved listening to the science behind play and how it helps with our learning and our brain development,” said Joleen Lichtenwald. Lichtenwald has five children and is a teacher at St. Agnes School. 

“It also was very reaffirming for what we know as teachers, and what we’ve been working so hard on in our classrooms, and also just thinking as a parent, for my own children.” 

Lichtenwald said that hearing from Dr. Aiono that play can and should be a component of learning throughout life (not just when young) caused her to reflect on whether she is offering enough play opportunities for older children, as well, and what that might look like. 

Wanda Peakman is executive director at the Moose Jaw Early Years Family Resource Centre. In addition to attending the workshops with her staff, Peakman help organize and facilitate Aiono’s visit to Moose Jaw. 

She agreed with Adrian that it was reassuring to hear that Play Pedagogy is supported by evidence. As Aiono noted in her presentation, there tends to be confusion around the seeming opposite-ness of play vs education, so Peakman was happy to help spread the word that play as a learning technique belongs in formal education. 

“We’re a very playful group at the Family Resource Centre, so we’re often in there playing right alongside families and kiddos. And we can really see some of the things she talked about tonight. 

“There’s just so much research behind it and people practicing it all over the world and especially in those early years.”