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  • Writer's pictureAlice Smith

Kinder Exeter: Playful Connections with Maarten Koener

June 16, 2021

Day 2 began with Maarten Koeners workshop on Playful Connections. Following the Instagram prompt from @kinderexeter, Maarten began the session by asking people if they had shown kindness to a family member. Each participant shared their acts of kindness (many of which centred on food) as they joined the call, instantly getting people thinking about compassion.

Olya introduced Maarten, a senior lecturer at the University of Exeter Medical School, whose work integrates insights in the physiology of play and playful learning with his academic practice. Maarten has also established the Playful University Club, which is a place that can form global connections with other practitioners, universities and lecturers who engage in play within their pedagogy.

After some quick housekeeping rules, Maarten began sharing the ideas he has developed within the University of Exeter Education Incubator. The first game was nicknamed the ‘Rainbow Game’. Everyone had to turn their cameras off and had to find as many objects in one colour of the rainbow as they could in 3 minutes. When the 3 minutes were up, Maarten called out each colour, and one by one, cameras turned back on, creating a vibrant rainbow that gloriously lit up the Zoom gallery.

A few years ago, Maarten was on a thinktank that explored gamification in education and was inspired by it. He read the work of Stuart Brown on the science of play and its essential role in fuelling our intelligence and happiness. Having two small children, Brown’s work resonated with Maarten and he began to study the biology of play and its relevance for education.

Maarten shared videos of his two young children answering the question “What does play mean for you?”. 5 year-old Liam answered that play means “joy and love” as well as making friends. 3 year-old Rowan responded by giving a physical demonstration, playing with his cars whilst spinning in a circle. When we think about the prompt ourselves, it can be hard to put it into words, but Rowan’s embodied expression of play resonated with many of the participants.

Following these heart-warming videos, the participants were invited to play a game of Circle Tales, the game which brought Kinder Exeter organisers Olya and Maarten together. Each card contained a question, a participant’s answer to which provided a prompt for a story to be created. This joyful game got the groups creative energy flowing as they collectively created an amusing story about an art enthusiast wanting to escape a castle with help from a purple-eyed, lavender scented, hairy monster.

As a final activity, Maarten drew on the work of the Arts and Culture fellow at the Playful University Club and the group engaged in a lecture without a lecturer. After a perplexing start following some technical difficulties, the participants followed Maarten’s voice saying “blah blah blah” for 7 minutes and acted out the prompts he gave us in the chat. This began by merely checking our phones and zoning out, but quickly became far more surreal with sharks flying overhead. When the session ended, one participant said that it was the weirdest thing he had done in a long while.

This workshop highlighted the fun that can be had as adults engaging in play and prompted us to wonder how it can be incorporated into our building of connections, as much as it is for children.

To join more sessions like this during our Kinder Exeter Festival, check out our schedule here!

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