Despite a deeply-rooted tradition that recognizes the value of play-based learning in early childhood education and care (ECEC), there has been relatively little research into adult playful learning in the higher education sector. This study explored the perceptions of play and playful learning among early childhood preservice teachers while they learned through play with reflection at a public university in the United States. An analysis of their reflective journals revealed that engaging in play activities promoted positive affect and a sense of learning community which, in turn, elicited playfulness and joy. Additionally, the study highlighted the value of hands-on, playful learning, challenging the participants’ preconceived notion of play and internalizing playfulness, thus gaining a stronger personal commitment to enact play pedagogies in their future endeavors. Considering that play-based pedagogy has increasingly been marginalized both in ECEC and higher education, the findings suggest a need to reclaim play and playful learning in teacher education programs.
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