In this expert interview, we sat down with Katie Salen (Director of Institute of Play and associate professor in the Design and Technology department at the Parsons School of Design) to talk about kids and \u201cplay\u201d to help us better understand what kids get from playing \u2014 and what they could learn from it.\n \n \n \n\n \nYou\u2019ve talked about the idea of \u201ctinkering.\u201d What do you mean by that?\nKatie: The term \u201ctinkering\u201d comes from an old idea of people \u201cdoing\u201d \u2014 having a hobby and sort of messing around. Tinkering isn\u2019t necessarily achievement-driven. It starts in the beginning simply with an interest about \u201cwhat would happen if\u2026?\u201d and then there\u2019s a kind of problem-based exploratory process that you go through where you\u2019re messing around with things, understanding how they might fit together, developing new hypotheses. So tinkering is a play space, it\u2019s an exploration space, an experimentation space that we see in some sense as a gateway towards more interest-driven activities, where kids become really serious around ideas like, \u201cI\u2019m really interested in doing that kind of thing.\u201d Tinkering affords an opportunity for kids to just try out stuff that maybe they didn\u2019t even know they had an interest in.\nWhat are some 21st-century examples of how kids are tinkering?\nKatie: They may be downloading animation software, and they don\u2019t really know how it works, but they kind of start working with it. They\u2019re looking at help manuals, they start drawing some pictures, they might upload that and see what kind of reactions they get from their friends.\nThey might tinker around trying to develop their own home page. So they may tinker with HTML, trying to figure out, \u201cWell, how do I customize my MySpace page?\u201d Or in Facebook, trying to figure out, \u201cWell, how do I add new little widgets to my profile page that allow me to do particular kinds of things?\u201d And digital media is awesome for tinkering because it\u2019s very forgiving. It\u2019s easy to make a change, and it\u2019s easy to delete something they don\u2019t like. It\u2019s a very flexible kind of space for kids to explore and experiment in.\nHow can parents help their kids tinker in digital spaces?\nKatie answers this question in the video interview at the top of this page. Check it out!\nWhat are some big take-aways for parents from your research?\nKatie: I think one of the most important things that we want to communicate to parents is that kids are learning all the time, everywhere. We\u2019ve traditionally thought about school as the only place where kids are learning and that things that they might be doing outside of school sort of \u201cdon\u2019t count\u201d as learning.\nSo the first thing we\u2019re trying to get parents to think about today is how you can help your child understand the connections between things that they do in school and things they do in their after-school space, like a fan fiction site that they might be interested in. By beginning to develop a dialogue with them around that activity, parents can help bring it back to things that they\u2019re working on in school and can help create a kind of coherence for their child around these different learning spaces.\nThe second thing I would say is to not try to judge for a child what is good learning and what isn\u2019t good learning. Kids really pick up on this. If they\u2019re spending time in a game or on a site and the parent is very critical that it\u2019s wasteful time, children will begin to either hide that activity from parents or miss out on things that they might be able to do in those spaces.\nSo how do parents do that?\nKatie: Parents should just be interested in what their child is doing, what they\u2019re looking at, what they\u2019re interested in, and what they\u2019re reading. Kids of different ages, of course, will share information to differing degrees. Little kids are very, very open about this. They want to share every sort of space that they\u2019ve been to, what they\u2019ve learned. Teenagers will edit where they\u2019re going, what they\u2019re doing. But the goal is to begin to develop a dialogue with the young person around their media use.\nTell us about the charter school you\u2019re helping to launch, Quest to Learn.\nKatie: Quest to Learn is really about re-envisioning the future of education via a school that takes on game-like learning and uses principles of how games work to teach kids. Because our work is focused on games, we began to ask questions about, \u201cWell, what would a classroom space look like, or a curriculum look like, or a day in the life of a student look like that felt more like a game?\u201d What this doesn\u2019t mean is that kids are playing video games all day. The curriculum itself is designed in such a way that it works like a game works, and it may include the play of some games, but it\u2019s equally digital and non-digital. It uses direct instruction, it uses collaboration and teamwork.