Dr. Sarah Aiono, from Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand, is one of the leading figures in educational research pointing to ‘play pedagogy’, an approach she believes can refresh the Western approach to formal teaching — and she’s coming to Moose Jaw. 

[Pedagogy, in an academic context, means the ways of being and doing as a teacher and learner.] 

Aiono will visit Moose Jaw for several professional educator-focused workshops on April 22 and 23, plus a free community night for parents on Wednesday, April 24: 

  • Introduction to play pedagogy  
    • Full-day workshop / Monday, April 22 
  • Teaching the curriculum through play  
    • Half-day workshop / Tuesday, April 23 
  • The role of the teacher in a play-based classroom  
    • Half-day workshop / Tuesday, April 23  
  • Location: Moose Jaw Events Centre Cost: $100 for one day or $120 for both days 

These sessions are facilitated by Laura Adrian, an Early Learning Facilitator at Holy Trinity Catholic School Division (HTCSD). 

“We are thrilled that Dr. Sarah Aiono is traveling all the way from New Zealand to share her expertise and passion with us here in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan,” Adrian said.  

“Play pedagogy has the potential to transform the way children experience their learning environment. Play fuels curiosity, sparks creativity, and inspires a lifelong love of learning. In our province, many educators and professionals who work with children already practice elements of ‘Play-Based Learning.’”  

So, how did a collaboration start between educators on opposite sides of the world? 

Adrian explained that she initially found Dr. Aiono through her podcast Play Conversations and her consulting business, Longworth Education.

“From there, we were able to converse via Zoom and found that a world apart, our work was very aligned.” 

“In having contact with Saskatchewan, and with Holy Trinity Division in particular, Laura from Holy Trinity has been following our work for time and engaging with some of the professional development that we offer online,” Aiono explained.  

“She reached out and shared the journey that they’ve been on, and I was so impressed with her enthusiasm and the work that she’s doing ... as an innovator in her field, you know, someone that’s really trying to make a difference ... I said to her, ‘Look, I’d love to help.’” 

Dr. Aiono has been to Canada (she has a Canadian sister-in-law) but admitted that she hadn’t heard of Moose Jaw before. 

“I had certainly not ever thought I’d be coming to Saskatchewan, so I’m pretty excited about it,” she laughed. 

What is Play-Based Learning, and how could it be the answer to current challenges in the system? 

“We’ve got children that are sitting longer, not exploring, not using parts of their brain that are there for a reason,” Aiono explained. “And that’s really the sort of barriers that we’re coming up against, is our view of what traditional education is, or what learning ‘should’ look like, versus how we’ve actually always learned as humans.” 

Aiono began her career as a frontline teacher, and firmly believes in having that experience and understanding before trying to innovate. 

"All our team are teachers by trade, that’s who we’ll have,” she said. “I know, as a teacher, I didn’t fully appreciate having someone come in and telling me how to run my classroom who hadn’t stood in my shoes.” 

Despite her career progression since then — she admits that after a Masters and Ph.D., she definitely fits in the categories of researcher and academic — Aiono said she’s still a teacher first. 

But what she’s found is that there are decades of research showing that the (relatively recent) ‘Victorian’ standard of education just isn’t as effective as more active, ‘playful’ approaches. Play pedagogy still requires focus, discipline, and memorization, but it engages children in more intuitive ways to help them reach their learning goals. 

“Probably one of the biggest philosophical barriers that we meet first when we’re talking about this ... is really the idea that play is ... trivial, it’s something that kids muck about with — it doesn’t look like ‘real learning’, because we’ve all been conditioned to what ‘real learning’ looks like.” 

Aiono has made her own contributions to the field, and her company Longworth Education, currently has consultants in nearly 30 New Zealand schools. They find their evidence-based ‘play’ methodology strikes a chord with teachers everywhere they go. 

Learn more at longwortheducation.com, and stay tuned for our podcast episode with the full conversation with Dr. Sarah Aiono.