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The Play Portal

Watch 6 and 12 year olds in Hyderabad and the LREI 5th Graders in New York play some games made by each other! Will they play by the rules, or will the break them? Also check out our 15 pages of beautifully designed Website Mock-ups!

Photo of Christopher Rannefors

Written by

THE PLAY PORTAL                                          
Concept in Brief

The space has been getting crowded with updates, content, and comments, so here is a quick snapshot of what you need to know if you are in a rush.

The Play Portal is an online platform that re-packages often daunting creative learning opportunities into more fun and approachable games for kids. Kids can play existing games by the rules, or the can 'Break the Rules' and let their creativity shine. Introductory, Science, & Expert Videos help frame the value behind the creative activity for both the kids and the parents. A multiple-intelligence pathway & badge system will allow children to build a virtual portfolio of their activity and help them develop their creative dexterities. Through our research we are confident that this idea is feasible when considering user demand, technological complexity, and funding. 

1) Learn About Play Portal - Scroll down to deep dive into the concept

2) Check out Our Impressive Downloadable Content

Website Mock-Up
LREI 5th Graders Play VIDEO                
LREI 5th Grader Games Feedback       

Indian Students Play VIDEO                  
Oakridge School Games Feedback
Cross Cultural Gaming VIDEO            
Indian Games Listing

3) Make a Game of Your Own! We will add it to our Library for Publishing!

Upload your game idea here: Play Portal Game Library
Or Play Our Games and Share: Games Instructions
Feel free to email us at

4) Join the Conversation! Add a comment at the bottom of the page or show us your support by clicking the "Applaud" button on the right side of the page! 


The Play Portal - Deep Dive Summary
Online Platform Structuring Creative Learning Opportunities through Games

A community that strays from thinking of games as a means for accomplishing our educational goals, to education as a means for accomplishing the goals of children. They know what they want to do, the Play Portal will help them get there in a fun way.

Targeted towards children ages 5-13, with parent involvement. Children will sign up with parents' email to receive the following welcome:

Dear Gamer,

Welcome to the Play Portal! We hope you are ready to play some games with us and all our friends! But more importantly, we hope you will teach us some new ways to play! We have lots of fun games that you can play on your own, with friends and classmates, or with Mom and Dad. Mom and Dad are fun, but sometimes they don’t know the best way to play, so it’s up to you to show them how! What are you waiting for? Jump on in and play your first game today!

Let the Games Begin!


How it Works

We have a whole collection of games in our library made up by kids just like you! When you click on a game you like, you will be taken to a page with some straight forward instructions for playing the game. There will be a column of postings from other gamers with alternative instructions, videos, and pictures of how they played the game. You can choose to learn and have fun by playing the way someone else did, or you can choose to “Break the Rules” and make your own version of the game and share it with us! Each game’s page will also feature three videos:


1) The Launching Pad Video: demonstrates the basic instructions needed to play the game, and explains any difficult aspects in depth


2) The Science Video: offers details of the science and art involved in the game to get a better understanding of how things work the way they do. Informed playing is always the best kind after all!


3) The Expert Video: spotlights a professional in the real world that uses similar principles learned in the game every day in their career! They share their inspirations and 'A Day in the Life'.


Examples of Games

1) The Neighborhood Treasure Hunt (game with friends)

Draw a map depicting your favorite spots in the neighborhood: the neighbor’s house with their funny hats, the bush with the crazy squirrels, the tree house in the yard, etc. Use your map to set up a treasure hunt for a friend or family member! Can they tell what your drawings represent?


Break the Rules: How creative can you get with your drawings? What kind of prizes will there be in your treasure hunt? Will there be any surprises?


Science Video: Using a compass to navigate, cartography lessons, tips on how to draw, history of maps and evolution to GPS


Expert Video: Dr. Heath Robinson, Professor of Geography who uses Adobe Illustrator as a tool to design maps shares his work


2) Kite Flying (solo game, or game with Mom & Dad)

Lets design, build, and fly a kite!


Break the Rules: What are some unique materials you can use? Any unique structural designs? Fun patterns or art to decorate the kite?


Science Video: How wind works, science of flight, design basics


Expert Video: Mathew Belcher, Australian Gold Medalist in Sailing discusses wind dynamics involved in his sport



3) Mr. Monopoly (Mom & Dad game)

If the tiny bald-headed monopoly guy can come up with a funboard game, so can you! Use cardboard, markers, ppt, and other tools to createa board game for the whole family to enjoy!


Break the Rules: What are some unique ways you can design a game, or some unique materials to use in making it?


Science Video: History of board games, printing game tokens, basic psychology behind bluffing,etc.


Expert Video: Franckh-Kosmos Verlag – Creator of Settlers of Catan describes his design process


Other Platform Details

- Multiple Intelligence Badges. Upon completion of games, the players will be rewarded badges that branch into development pathways based on the types of games they prefer (craft vs. strategic vs. athletic). This will help parents become sensitive to multiple intelligences and what their child’s interests and needs are. Different types of gamers will be invited to particular contests and challenges and perhaps invited to live in person sessions with each other as well

- Be Nice Policy. Platform admins and parents monitor comments and feedback on games. Getting parents to discuss online social interaction is important in shaping the child’s sensitivity to their digital citizenship

- Mentorship Model. When kids choose to recreate the 'games' of other kids, they will have the opportunity to converse online with the original player so that player can then serve as a mentor to share their ideas with new gamers. This will offer the original player a sense of accomplishment and leadership, and offer needed guidance for the new players. Hopefully this will develop meaningful online friendships. 

- Graduation. Once they get too old for the childlike feel of the platform kids can ‘graduate’ into a similar but more adult-focused platform. For example the kids who played all crafty games may go to, the kid who played all artistic games might be directed, or the kid who likes the food-related games may graduate into The Play Portal platform is a great launching pad in and of itself for helping young kids get a better understanding of where their true creative passions lie, and then providing resources for taking a deeper dive into any one area. 


Theory Behind the Concept

The Play Portal creates a modified ‘Third Space’ (Oldenburg) for kids outside of school and home. This is a space that offers a unique social identity for the child in which they can comfortably pursue creative exploration in a community of their own. In the portal the kid is in charge, the parents are along for the fun, but their primary role is to offer support when needed – parenting from a partnership perspective. It is essential that the creative control be in the hands of the child – while parents often poke and prod, creative confidence must be discovered individually.


A lot of the ‘games’ will be craft projects, academic topics, or difficult concepts that have been re-packaged in a fun way. By packaging these often less-approachable topics into games, kids are going to better absorb information because they are having fun while engaging their minds and bodies. As the kids tackle more and more games, each successive success will boost their confidence in themselves. They will hopefully begin to develop a level of self-efficacy, the sense that you can change the world and do what you set out to do. 

Renowned researcher James Paul Gee argues that we need to introduce level design into school curriculum, similar to how videogames are structured. The Play Portal plays into this argument by offering the players the chance to start with easy games, and work their way up towards more difficult games of their choosing. 

The Expert Video in the Game Page will give stubborn parents a glimpse into how creative activities can help develop skills and unique talents that can build towards a rewarding and successful career. Kids will be encouraged to learn from each other by copying others games; but most important will be the 'Break the Rules' aspect where they are challenged to think beyond the conventions of what they are told a game should be... and think about how a game could be when they stretch their imaginations. 


Technological Feasibility

I have spoken with several of my friends who are designers and engineers, and after explaining all of the intended functionalities of the site none of them have seemed concerned about the implementation. In fact the majority of the needed features are already functional on the OpenIDEO Beta site we are on now. Adarsh Ramakrishnan, founder of Elegant Solutions Design said, "From a technical feasibility standpoint it's not very difficult, as you are venturing into very well understood territory. Also, it seems that these games are more interactive web documents that lay out guidelines for HOW to play a game in real life (as opposed to on the computer), which makes this even easier."



Platform could be funded in various ways (listed in order of most likely): 

1) Educational institutions (private schools and public schools) pay a license fee to use the platform for their districts. Today companies like Dreambox and RazKids license their online math and reading platforms to schools for annual fees. In today's economy, it can be argued that creativity is an equivalent asset to core skills like math and reading, and from interviewing several teachers we believe that school districts would be interested in adopting a platform to that end. The platform would have to be slightly modified from its original form to encourage games with teachers and students, and within classrooms. The best option may also be a freemium model where we offer it for free to school systems in order to scale the number of users, and then if kids want to take the portal home with them or access premium content they will have to ask their parents to pay a small monthly/annual subscription fee. 


2) Parents could pay a small monthly or annual subscription fee for the model. This would certainly work, but I am concerned that the number of parents in the world that would pay for a creativity platform is small. Not enough parents are actively engaged in their children's development. A better option may be a hybrid model between a public platform for individuals, and an organizational platform for grade schools to use in the classrooms. That way kids could also take the platform home with them after school and play games with their parents as well.

3) The platform could be funded by corporate sponsors for individual games. For example, LEGO could sponsor the 'Movie Director' game where kids make Lego still-shot movies. Or HASBRO could sponsor the 'Make Your own Boardgame' game. This could work, but I fear that big companies might influence the direction of the kids' imaginations towards existing products. The whole idea behind the platform is to encourage kids to get out of the box and break the rules. 


                                                           UPDATE I

Meet the 5th Graders! (11/25/2013)

"We work and learn together at the Little Red School House & Elisabeth Irwin High School ( in New York City. We are a learning community firmly rooted in the tradition of progressive educations (our founder Elisabeth Irwin was a colleague and friend of John Dewey). We are committed to engaging kids in authentic and meaningful inquiry founded in direct experience and purpose."

-Mark Silberberg, Middle School Principal, L R E I

Right now these amazing kids are on the frontlines figuring out what sort of games they want to play and what skills they want to learn. The week after Thanksgiving our team will be compiling their ideas as well as ideas from the OpenIDEO community in order to prototype games with the class. They will be playing games at home, with their friends, with their parents, and in the classroom. Their user feedback will be invaluable in developing this concept further. We are looking forward to seeing how creative they can be when it comes to "Breaking the Rules!"

Check out their OpenIDEO profile here: LREI 5th Graders

                                                          UPDATE II

5th Grader Survey Results (11/27/2013)
View the PDF - Click HERE

We asked our LREI 5th Graders a few questions that have been buzzing around in the comment section, and really couldn't have been answered by anyone other than a kid. We have given a lot of thought to our idea based on their responses, but before we share them in our post, we want you to have a chance to draw your own conclusions! Check out the Results and share your thoughts in the comment section below!


                                                        UPDATE III

Our incredible designer Elly Taura ( has just finished the final edits on some outstanding website mock-ups that were imagined together in a collaborative team effort. Special shout out to Molly Schmidt for preparing the sketches for the site and working so hard! 

Special Thanks to the following Community Members for Game Inspiration!
Jeff Nagata, Michelle M, Mrinalini Ruban, Christie Wong, Richard Chapman, Yis Sel, Alice Kim, Daniel Martinez Da Cruz, Jonathan Calvert, Naveen Balachandran, Meena Kadri, Sonja Heinen, Andrei Valins, Jen Curtis (sorry if we missed anyone!)


                                                        UPDATE IV

LREI 5th Grader Game Playing Results & Feedback (12/11/2013)
View the PDF - Click Here (instant download)

Our LREI 5th Graders ended up playing six games made up by various members of the OpenIDEO community. Watch the videos above and below, and then check out the detailed feedback results that have been put together by the wonderful Molly Schmidt. We learned a lot about what aspects of games worked, and what didn't. We definitely had a handful of rule breakers! Special thanks to Mark Silberberg for coordinating the Play Session and gathering all the raw video and feedback. 

Check out the Raw Footage & Hear the Kids Answer Questions

*LREI School has blanket permission to publish appropriate photos and videos of the children for academic purposes. Please keep any content posted here within the OpenIDEO community. 


                                                         UPDATE V 

Indian Students Game Playing Results & Feedback (12/12/2013)
View the PDF - Click Here (instant download)

Our team member in Hyderabad, Manya Cherabuddi, was able to test run Play Portal games with 12 year olds at Oakridge International School and 6 year olds at The Future Kid's School. She also put together the amazing feedback document that you can download above. Great work Manya! We have been getting feedback on games from kids around the world and it is helping us get a better understanding of the viability of the portal. 

*Manya received school permission to publish appropriate photos and videos of the children for academic purposes. Please keep any content posted here within the OpenIDEO community. 

                                                      UPDATE VI

Indian Cultural Games - Indian Games Listing

Our 12 year olds at the Oakridge International School worked with Manya Cherabuddi to come up with a list of several culturally Indian games for kids. Manya then documented these games so that the LREI 5th Graders could play them! Check out the videos above! This exercise truly demonstrates the potential behind having an online platform to share games with a global community of young people. 


*New* Refinement question: What will the future look like with your idea in it?

A fully implemented Play Portal will be a unique creative learning space for kids, by kids. With the Play Portal, kids will have a safe space to create, imagine, and demonstrate their creative repertoire to the world. Kids won't be afraid to fail at a creative challenge, because it's just a game! Through playing, kids will learn about themselves through a unique multiple intelligence pathway and badge system that helps visualize their interests. Over the years they will develop a unique creative and digital identity on the platform. The platform will encourage responsible digital citizenship, which is something that is rare with young kids today. With the science videos, kids will be learning while playing - and the expert videos will reinforce both kids and parents' confidence in creative activities. On top of everything, with the platform's global reach kids will learn about other kids and cultures by playing games imagined from all over the world. There is a social element here that has not yet been fully explored.

In this challenge, we want to create ideas with young people, not for them. Outline how you’re planning to involve young people or other end-users (parents, teachers, etc) in designing, iterating or testing your idea during the Ideas phase.

The great thing about this platform is that it is kids building off of each others' creativity. It is a platform of creativity fueled games made for kids, by kids. While parent involvement is important for the development of creative confidence, having involved and supportive parents is often a luxury, which is why it is important that this platform be online and have opportunities for kids to engage with it on their own (solo projects) in case their parents are disinclined. User involvement in creating games is the life-blood of the entire platform.

How might you envision your idea spreading across geographies or cultures so that it inspires young people around the world to cultivate their creative confidence?

The platform will be online and localized to at least 13 core languages. If we can make the platform global, it will become accessible to millions of kids that don't have access to traditional creative resources. By sharing ideas for games across cultures, the Play Portal community of young gamers will learn a lot about the many faces of the world. Through our trial runs we have seen that the kids are enthusiastic about playing games made by kids from foreign cultures! If we can get kids in Sweden, America and India playing each others' games in just a month, imagine what we can do in a year!

Evaluation results

10 evaluations so far

1. How well do you feel this idea could inspire young people to cultivate their creative confidence?

Really well – feels like this idea would kickstart creative confidence in young people everywhere - 60%

It's getting there – but it seems to need further work to really inspire creative confidence - 30%

I don't think this idea would significantly inspire young people's creative confidence - 10%

2. Does this idea have enough momentum behind it to successfully spread and scale to diverse groups of young people globally?

Absolutely – it's inspiring, engaging and I'm sure young people everywhere would be excited to participate - 60%

Maybe, but we'd need to figure out more details to really help this idea get adopted more widely - 30%

Nope, I don't see this idea having global appeal for diverse audiences of young people - 10%

3. Does this idea show potential for lasting impact on generations of young people and their creative confidence?

This idea seems to have staying power and could impact young people for years to come - 50%

I think there's potential for lasting impact but it's not totally clear what that would look like - 40%

It feels like this idea is more of a short-term solution that may not last into the future - 10%

4. Would this idea appeal to young people who are already creatively confident as well as those who are not?

Absolutely – it would be appealling and accessible to young people of all creative levels and abilities - 50%

Probably – but young people who don't consider themselves very creative might need a little extra support or coaching - 50%

Not really – this idea is really best suited for young people who already see themselves as creatively confident - 0%

5. Overall, how do you feel about this idea?

It rocked my world - 50%

I liked it but preferred others - 30%

It didn't get me overly excited - 20%


Join the conversation:

Photo of Melchior Tamisier-Fayard

Hey Christopher,
I am a high school student in New York, and I've posted an idea on the current women's safety challenge :
After reading your idea, and reading what you have been doing at your school, I wanted to ask you whether you would want to get some of you students engaged in the conversation I'm trying to start on my blog
If you are interested, I would like to invite you onto the blog as an author so your students could post some content.

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