Unfortunately, classrooms all too often fix students in desks, and educators reward students for sitting still. Classroom work, occurring in the brain and on the page, does not leverage embodied cognition. Recess or gym provide brief moments of release set off from the “real” learning. This classroom of the mind might hinder the intellectual development of students, but more importantly it’s not representative of knowledge acquisition in the real world.
Innovative educators have long known about the benefits of embodied learning, reconfiguring classrooms, taking students on field trips, doing citizen science outdoors, or making yoga part of the school curriculum. And, using motion tracking technology, companies like SMALLab are designing and assessing games and interactive educational experiences that blend physical and digital space. Once cutting edge and prohibitively expensive, these systems have the potential for widespread educational use as videogame consoles make motion control a standard feature.
But motion control systems are just the latest development in a centuries long legacy of play-based educational activities. In many ways, embodied learning is at the foundation of play but rarely explicit. We can witness centuries of formal and informal games—from London Bridge to Sim City— across the world that have preserved history, taught people social skills, and provided an accessible way for thinking through complex problems and systems.
By making play and the body central to the classroom we’re not just making education more fun, or more engaging (although those are not necessarily bad byproducts). We’re also, finally, fixing a deeply flawed system that cut off the body and spited the mind.