The evidence is clear: play supports learning (e.g., Bateson & Martin, 2013; Frost et al., 2012; Hale & Bocknek, 2015; Hirsh-Pasek et al., 2009; Honeyford & Boyd, 2015; Plenty, 2015; Sullivan, 2011). Play can be joyful, iterative, socially interactive, meaningful and actively engaging (Zosh et al., 2017). These emotional, social, and cognitive features of play are why it can powerfully support learning. Play increases children’s motivation. It helps connect children’s knowledge, experiences, and interests. In play, children’s attention is focused. They persist through challenges and engage in deep learning, which supports them in consolidating skills and retaining what they have learned (Liu et al., 2017). Because play supports learning, it should have an important role in school.

While play is often seen as an activity—soccer, chess, or a math game—it also involves a mindset, an outlook and approach towards activities. When participants experience activities at school as empowering, meaningful and joyful, these activities become playful learning. Mindsets can differ among participants; what is playful for one is not playful for all. Thus, playful mindsets are central to play’s role in learning at school. There are three important educational implications here. First, playful learning can be part of any subject because almost any activity—exploring prime numbers or writing a composition—can be playful. Second, promoting playful learning involves teachers activating and cultivating students’ playful mindsets. Third, to activate and cultivate playful mindsets for all students, educators need to be flexible, spontaneous and open to surprise. They need to be playful, taking a more than one way approach to their teaching.

In this working paper, we explore this third implication: the teaching approach of more than one way and its importance in promoting playful learning. We begin with a brief explanation of the Pedagogy of Play (PoP) USA research on which this paper is based, and then turn to an example from a 4th grade classroom that illustrates what is play for one isn’t play for all. We then explain the teaching approach of more than one way. Two additional classroom examples—from early childhood and middle school—are shared to illustrate how more than way supports playful learning. Our analysis concludes with a discussion about how the idea of more than one way may fit into a pedagogy of play framework. A description of the research methods used in the PoP USA study is provided in an appendix.