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The Sydney Opera HousePlay Award

An annual award for a school, learning program, class or an individual student or teacher, who has made a remarkable and ongoing contribution to ‘play in learning’ with demonstrated positive impacts.

Winners for the Sydney Opera House Play Award 2024 have now been announced. 

About the Play Award

Award Amount: $10,000

The Sydney Opera House has an ongoing and rich connection with play and its intrinsic connection to the arts and learning. From the inspiring stories on our stages, to the artists who enliven our Centre for Creativity, we are committed to equipping artists and audiences with the capacity and skills to embed play in their classrooms, creative and civic spaces, and everyday life. 

It is in this spirit that we continue our relationship with renowned educator Professor Pasi Sahlberg, and launch the Sydney Opera House Play Award.

This annual Award (2024–2027 inclusive) will be given to a school, learning program, class or an individual student or teacher, who has made a remarkable and ongoing contribution to play in learning with demonstrated positive impact in the school community.

The Play Award is made possible by the generous donation of Professor Pasi Sahlberg and will be ongoing for the next four years. 

Play is how children explore, discover, fail, succeed, socialise, and flourish. It is a fundamental element of the human condition. It’s the key to giving school children skills they need to succeed.

Pasi Sahlberg and William Doyle, 'Let the Children Play: How More Play Will Save Our Schools and Help Children Thrive'


Avonvale Primary School (WA)

Avonvale Primary School, is a small community school located in Northam in regional, Western Australia. 52% of students identify as Aboriginal and the school shares a strong partnership with parents and the community.  

Students co-designed with staff a range of activities across the Arts, Science, dramatic play, connection to Noongar culture and physical activities that encourage and nurture curiosity, creativity, independence and co-operative skills. The program is held for a full day each week and all children are involved. Student attendance, academic engagement and interpersonal skills have greatly improved with the program's introduction. Students actively suggest improvements in the school learning environment as student voice is encouraged.  

Interpersonal skills and social competencies have improved and students have become more independent learners and problem solvers. Students now have a greater capacity to persevere with difficult tasks and being willing to ‘have a go’ when something does not go to plan is evident. Students and staff promote making mistakes as part of learning and resiliency.  

One of the greatest outcomes has been the observable improvement in students accepting differing viewpoints and understanding the importance of collaboration, co-operation and inclusion. Families are supportive and appreciative that their children happily skip to school each Wednesday!  

“We wish outdoor learning was every day! It expands our creativity and we get to learn new things in a relaxed way with friends and family from other classes.” 

Year 4-6 students, Avonvale Public School  

“The Sydney Opera House Play Award would be a game changer for our students and their outdoor learning program. These funds would enable us to strengthen our outdoor learning program to set up permanent outdoor learning stations such as wood work, developing our bush tucker garden, mud play areas and assorted equipment to increase student participation at different stations. More important though, is the validation of the importance of the role that quality play and outdoor learning has in educational settings.”

Leah Vogler, Principal, Avonvale Public School 

“This application shows how courageous leadership can introduce a play-based response to a challenging situation and clearly outlines the significant impact on student's engagement, academic performance and positive school community.”

Professor Tonia Gray, Western Sydney University and Sydney Opera House Play Award Panelist


Granville East Public School (NSW)

At Granville East Public School, we run a strong play based learning program from Kindergarten to Year 2 called ‘Learning Centres’. Each week our students participate in 4-6 hours of play that is facilitated by teachers. Our program has significantly impacted our school community. Our K-2 students have shown that they are better able to socially interact with each other inside and outside the classroom after participating in play-based learning - as a result, students share, take turns, use appropriate language and resolve conflicts.  

The play-based learning program has been extended into 3-6 where students have an opportunity to participate in ‘Big Kid Play’ and they too can work on developmentally appropriate skills. We have seen a growing improvement in literacy skills among our K-6 students including reading, oral language and vocabulary. 

We believe that committing to play as a learning methodology fosters creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration. All of these create strong, independent, life long learners. At Granville East Public School, our students want to build on their learning through following their own interests. Our children feel safe to ask questions, fail, explore and develop at a pace that is individually, developmentally appropriate to them. 

“Students are more willing to read, write and create when they are learning through play. That is because their learning is really authentic to them.” 

Assistant Principal, Granville East Public School 

“What remarkable work you are doing within a diverse community. It is evident how you incorporate play into your school day and the big impact it is having on the children's academic, social and emotional development.” 

Alexandra Harper, Western Sydney University and Sydney Opera House Play Award Panelist 

Lindfield Learning Village (NSW)

Throughout 2023 and beyond, 100 educators and 900 students devoted the year to embedding a culture of play in all elements of the school experience. Revealing the power of play in the transformation of schooling, educator development and the way families engage with the village and immersing every villager in the ‘playventure’ that brought our vision statement - ‘Be playful, creative and brave’ - new life as we played.   

Rich research and immersive professional learning supported educators not only to implement play as a pedagogy, but to become players themselves. This resulted in changing pedagogical practice and the student experience. Permission to be playful increased bravery and educators felt able to play without judgment, embracing our celebrations of spectacular failure with abandon.   

Being responsive to and celebrating different ways to play, and be playful, changed the way children played in their free time. Play is now an accepted, expected and embedded pedagogy and can be seen everywhere. No-one thinks they are too old to play or that play is only what happens when on a break from 'real learning'. The reduction in inhibitions has led to a bold, more joyful, empowered and connected feeling across the community. The byproducts of play are rich and rewarding for everyone.  

“The culture fostered an environment where I felt confident to make such a leap and it had such a positive impact on participation and engagement.”  

Educator at Lindfield Learning Village 

“Possibly one of the biggest takeaways that I have had this year is to remember that play is one of the few areas when adults and children alike are able to truly get into a zone, to release and to unwind. This freedom is great for learning but also for mental wellbeing.”  

Parent from Lindfield Learning Village

“An impressive whole-school approach, well-researched and expertly implemented.” 

Malcolm Elliot, former President Tasmanian Principals Association and Sydney Opera House Play Award Panelist 

Middle Harbour Public School (NSW)

At Middle Harbour Public School, play is an investigative learning approach and pedagogy that underpins everything that happens in the classroom every day. Our program is based on Kathy Walker’s ‘Walker Learning Pedagogy’, established through the Early Life Foundation in 2008. Our expert teachers have drawn on this thorough research and rich expertise to extend and embed ‘playful learning’ into the daily lives and learning of students at Middle Harbour Public School.  

Learning spaces and tasks are designed to invite students into learning through investigation and provocation. Student-driven play-based learning sessions that run daily throughout the school focus on students as agents of their own learning, practising skills and knowledge they have learnt, choosing the space to learn in, tools to play with and problems to solve, while teachers act as expert facilitators who explicitly connect students’ choices in play with curriculum, learning intentions and ways to demonstrate understanding through reflection and feedback.  

Since the introduction of play-based learning at Middle Harbour Public School, teachers and parents have experienced a change in mindset - play is now recognised as the ‘work’ and learning in the classroom. For our students, it is the reason they skip in through the school gates each day. 

“One of the greatest outcomes of our play-based learning program is the joy and engagement it brings to learner’s learning and teacher’s teaching.” 

Laura Barry, Principal, Middle Harbour Public School 

“A great application that outlines the play-based program and its positive impact on learning and the school community. I was particularly struck by the child-agency.” 

Tanya Dickson, Creative Producer for Art Play, Melbourne, and Sydney Opera House Play Award Panelist 

Mount Ommaney Public School (QLD)

The young students at our school love to play. All of our students have an intellectual disability and many have multiple disabilities. We needed a drama methodology that was based on both their playfulness and their unique needs.   

In 2023, we heard about The Open Theatre Company, UK and brought the directors of this world leading company - for, by and with young people with intellectual disabilities - over from England. They trained members of our staff in their bespoke, non-verbal and physical theatre methodologies, as well as running drama sessions with nearly all our students. The impact was well beyond what we had expected. Many parents and staff became quite emotional watching the young people playing and interacting with such joy and capacity.   

Today, our drama team leads sessions throughout the school, continuing to benefit from mentorship by the Open Theatre directors. The practice cultivates a sense of agency in each child, fostering creativity, connection, and capability. Rooted in a profoundly respectful pedagogical approach, these sessions are transformative for both students and staff.   

Our vision extends beyond our school - we aspire for all Australian schools to embrace this truly inclusive practice.  

“The development of staff skills in the Open Theatre practices is a priority for our school. The Sydney Opera House Play Award would help make it possible for our drama team to travel to England and undergo a structured mentorship at the Open Theatre Company. The knowledge they bring back would not only directly improve outcomes for our students, but would also greatly assist us in training staff in other schools. This play-based method is an important addition to the creative lives of young people living with intellectual disabilities in Australia.”   

Mike Curtis, Principal, Mount Ommaney Special School 

“I love how classic drama practices are being embedded in this school in an accessible way - the true meaning of possibility in play.” 

Curly Fernandez, Creative Practitioner and Sydney Opera House Play Award Panelist 

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