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Play Tectonics, a name we grabbed onto, bumping into the famous Theory of Plate Tectonics, is all about the natural and unstoppable movement of the planetary landmass called Establishment Education toward a changing geography of learning—a world moving upon, and shaped by, the gifts and virtues of Play. (Like Plate Tectonics, we know that the notion of Play Tectonics may inspire laughter and contempt in both theory and practical application. Regardless, we confidently stand our ground.) In a very real-world sense, Play is a vast, untapped energy reserve brimming inside the hearts and minds of the young. By informing the practice of teaching with the science of Play along with the broad application of viral, social, play-based media to reach young minds, we are tilting the field of Establishment Education off its one-size-fits-all axis, and guiding it into a new epoch of self-regulated, dynamic, play-engaged and play-propelled learning.

The core premise of Play Tectonics is that Play is both the birthright and path of young minds. Free and joyful learners are born with minds preset to send and receive information creatively and imaginatively, where they live, at their core—through Play. In a play-based learning culture, young learners of all ages can, today, in the brief present of a fleeting childhood, begin their lives learning richly, not as mere test subjects but as productive, independent, caring and expressive human beings. Because all families are exposed to the second hand smoke of factory learning, it is time to recognize that we have put this and future generations--and our nation--at risk. Play is the path forward. Within every child, every parent, and every teacher there is a door that opens on the vista of play--a language through which to journey and engage in shared and enlightened learning experiences. All we have to do is reach for the door and it will open… almost by itself.

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Play-Based Media

“A medium of communication,” wrote Marshall McLuhan, “is not merely a passive conduit for the transmission of information but rather an active force in creating new social patterns and new perceptual realities.” Harvard scientist, E.O. Wilson, has advanced the idea that art is a kind of “evolutionary agency.” Culture transformation lies hidden in the media we choose to use in reaching the young.

The Play Tectonics Movement is based upon a single key proposition: Find a way to systematically inject play energy into the flow of communication in classrooms, and you will have harnessed important raw chemicals from the brain—needed for thinking and emotionally charged visual communication. “We need languages that fit the present time—that can deal with the collective as well as the individual and that transcend traditional boundaries of tribe, nation, and culture,” wrote Peter Senge. Puppet Play, or hand puppet behavior practically applied, qualifies as one such language. The hand puppet is an outgrowth of nature—a symbolic bloom of organic art on the hand. Puppetools renders puppetry at once a tool, a media, communication—energy by which to warm and propel the field of education.

Make playful communication second nature on a systematic scale, and a strategic means to transform the learning culture is suddenly available. Playful communication has the power to surprise and destabilize the rigid character of conventional communication practiced by adults in the world's classrooms. Playful communication has the potential to exert broad impact and overnight transformation on the learning culture. This may sound like a tall order for such an amusingly innocuous tool as hand puppetry but puppet play is highly contagious language and media capable of integrating, transmitting, and transferring information and opening the mind.

Puppets are widely known for their magical capacity to pass through psychological walls. Somehow the little lifelike buggers always get a response. They always make it past the censors and the gatekeepers—Resistance, Fear, Control and Rigidity. In a world where classrooms are increasingly consumed with a strictly academic mission, play in the classroom stands out. The simple act of puppet play engaged in by child and adult in which a lifelike form or behaving entity is made to move and talk produces a catalytic, predictable impact on classroom group dynamics. Puppetools, which involves teachers making their own puppets and putting them to work, has generated an extensive base of teacher anecdotes and video documentation attesting to the changes which classrooms undergo after introducing and working with the puppet medium. “I can hardly believe that a paper puppet can be so magical.” “The children were mesmerized.” “This has been one of the most enjoyable first few weeks of school I can remember,” wrote one teacher.

When autistic children begin speaking in the presence of a puppet, the medium typically works to unlock emotive, psychobiological structures and pathways. Puppets send a signal to disarm and that 'it's safe to come out'. Without puppets it is often very difficult to broach sensitive subjects, but because puppets can symbolize and articulate and project a given issue embodied in a “third party” they make reaching children much easier and less threatening, (Puppets are more apt to motivate children to perform a task than their teachers.) This has implications for neutralizing the conditions of stress and fear that lead to alienation, violence, suicide, obesity, and substance abuse—and for preventing adult-induced variations of these widespread conditions related to child development and education. Play sends a message powerful enough to derail the antique train of testing and accountability.

Using puppets, a teacher can personally transform common learning barriers—oppositional behavior, negative moods, defensive attitudes—into a windfall of learning benefits and surprises. Children become more responsive and motivated. Perhaps most important, adults find themselves suddenly having fun. Teachers who tend to keep themselves and their emotions at arm's distance in the classroom become fully involved with the puppets and the children's response to them. The element of play induced by puppets calls up in teachers and children something vital to a learning process struggling to rise above itself. What many teachers describe as "magical" in puppets is the brain's deep need and response to aural, physical, kinetic, visual, emotive stimulation produced by a powerful species-specific, play- and art-based behavior.

The capacity for childlike thought and symbolic use of the imagination is the soil that Einstein, Edison, and DaVinci and others have tapped into and became the playground in which they conducted their work. That soil is the birthright and the internal springboard for learning—residing within each human being—but especially within each child. This capacity—and the principles of human evolution that underlie it—represents the foundation upon which our relationship with the young should be guided.

Adapted from a Position Paper published by The 'Emotions, Learning, and Education Symposium' held in Copenhagen, Denmark, November, 2004; sponsored by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development/ Center for Education and Research Innovation (CERI) and the Learning Lab, Denmark. Two papers were presented in person.


—Jeffrey L. Peyton, Founder
The Play Tectonics Movement






Excerpts from:

Riding the Big Bang of Play into 21st Century Education
(e-Book available @ puppetools.com)

Play, the emotive, socializing, and civilizing bond between adult and child, is uniquely capable of breathing life into the 'flat' nature of communication and of transforming the rigid, artificial character of the classroom into a thriving habitat.
--from The Play Principle

Harnessing play energy into and through play-based mass media is the most efficient, economical, and immediate route to an enlightened future for education--and to the larger world of human discourse education ultimately shapes.
--from The Play Principle

More Excerpts



Communicative puppet art incorporates projected play--meaning play, unlike sport, that elicits spontaneity, surprise, and insight. Puppet Play qualifies as art that, in the words of Harvard scientist E.O.Wilson, serves as 'an agent of nature.' Play in this sense is perhaps the most fertile refinement of brain evolution--the soil in which great inventors and scientists establish their work.
--from The Play Principle

In the same way electromagnetic force transformed modern life, teachers and children freed and emboldened by the lightness of play represent a force that can readily transform the learning culture.
--from The Promise of Play for Deep Reform of the Learning Culture

Play is not, as many believe, appropriate only to very early childhood learning settings. In fact, it can be argued that, throughout its infrastructure, institutional education is paralytic, problem-laden, and locked-down because it has cut itself off from the biological roots of human learning--from Play.
--from Elements of The Play-Based Curriculum

Play cultivates self-assertive people who stand and act responsively for themselves. Playful people are not easily duped, ask questions, and thrive on challenges. Play is a kind of freedom without which we shrink and atrophy in mind and body. In a Play-Based learning culture, kids learn to grow free and self-propelled.
--from Elements of The Play-Based Curriculum

Play is self-regulation, intentionality, thinking, musing, and dreaming. By the time a play-influenced learner reaches high school, he or she will have had a lifetime of play-immersed experiences in which the capacity to own and grasp intellectual matter has become second nature.
--from Elements of The Play-Based Curriculum

As a form of an authentic, play-based learning language, puppets may be viewed as tools for a learning culture that empowers the young to grasp the symbolic character of their dreams and ideas; that puts trust in them ahead of control and tests, that sparks, instead of smothers, their innate happiness, delight, and joy in learning.
--from Elements of The Play-Based Curriculum

If we want innovation to flourish, we can no longer educate and prepare the young for life using the abusive practice of force-feeding content and testing. We must begin speaking a language of dreams and innovation, so that the imagination becomes the self-knowing point of the compass primed for exploration, navigation and living one's life to the fullest.
--from Elements of The Play-Based Curriculum

At age 16 Albert Einstein is said to have imagined what it would be like to ride on a beam of light. He no doubt took many other such field trips in the playground of his mind. If our teachers inspired thinking like this, the world would become a much better, richer place. And kids would grow up happier and more empowered to appreciate the power of their brains.
--from Riding the Big Bang of Play into 21st Century Education

The universality with which children embrace the puppet archetype is a reflection of its power to engage the full spectrum of brain resources. Possibly the most elemental art form, the hand puppet represents a bio-media made for communicating with children and reaching young minds of all ages.
--from Factors of Evolution Revealed in Hand Puppet Behavior



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The PlayTectonics Movement advances on the world-changing energy of Play--specifically on the play-based training, communication, and relationships generated by the use of play language-- "puppetools." Register to learn more about Play Tectonics and Puppetools.