Conceptual PlayWorld

Picturebooks are a central feature in the Conceptual PlayWorld model launched in March this year as part of a larger five-year programme of research called the Conceptual PlayLab (2019 – 2024) at Monash University, Peninsula Campus in Victoria, Australia. The Conceptual PlayWorld is a model of intentional teaching that Monash Professor Marilyn Fleer developed based on extensive research and experience working with young children and how they form concepts in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

A Conceptual PlayWorld is an imaginary scenario created by an educator where young children are invited to go on imaginary journeys, meet and solve challenges, and learn STEM concepts – all while playing. A Conceptual PlayWorld can be inspired by a children’s book or a fairy tale story, and it can be setup in an average classroom. Imagination is the limit!

This imaginary world enables educators to deliver play-based programs for young children where they get to experience and live through concepts that would otherwise be difficult to explain. PlayWorlds might last for a week, a month or even a term whereas Pop-up PlayWorlds may last only for a morning.

There are five steps for creating a Conceptual PlayWorld and encouraging a love of STEM.

Step One: Selecting a story

Teachers are encouraged to start with a simple story such as Rosie’s walk (Hutchins, 1967), incorporate drama and learn about something like ‘prepositional language’ (on, over, under, behind, in front, etc.) and of course PLAY these concepts with children in your imaginary Rosie’s farm.

Some books used in schools and ECE settings to date include Rosie’s Walk (Pat Hutchins, 1967), Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White, 1952), The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett, 1911).

Step Two: Designing the imaginary spaces

Step Three: Entering and exiting the PlayWorld

Step Four: Planning your problem to be solved

Step Five: Deciding what role you, as the teacher, will take in the PlayWorld

There is a downloadable App and a private Facebook page to support educators who want to be involved. For more information check out:

I recently visited the Conceptual PlayLab as part of a travel fellowship looking at STEEAM (STEM plus Environmental Education and the Arts). Now I am wondering what other Picturebooks might work as starters for Conceptual PlayWorlds. Remember they need to have a problem that needs to be solved – There’s a hippopotamus on our roof eating cake (Edwards, 1980) or a Possum in the house (Jensen, 1986); some emotional tension – Rosie the hen doesn’t know that the fox is following her; characters that children and teachers can be assigned in the PlayWorld, and possibly other characters that could be added to be part of the drama; and concepts related to STEM such as food security, spatial awareness or problem solving for example.

The possibility of maybe doing something associated with the Monash Conceptual PlayLab in Aotearoa New Zealand in the future is very exciting. Any picturebook suggestions can be emailed to