“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”
This weekend was an interesting one for me and my daughter Saige. I’d say it was especially exciting for her because she was so amazed by all the people who showed her so much love after having her testimony to the NJ State Board of Education published in the Washington Post. She was deeply moved and that was evident in the cabbage patch she would literally break out into after I read the different comments from many of my friends and family. What I loved about Saige’s testimony was her focus on play. That was HER choice. I mean if you ever ask Saige what her ideal school is, she would most likely tell you it would be a place where they play A LOT. At one point, she told me she wished school was like summer camp. And I sometimes wonder if school should look a lot like summer camp for our littlest ones even through middle school; an environment mostly driven by the interest of the child, but using those interests to address the necessary social-emotional learning, language, science/environmental, reading literacy, and math literacy skills needed.
A few years ago I took a course entitled, “Informal Learning Environments”. It was a core class I needed for my doctoral course-load in the Design of Learning Environments (DLE) concentration. I distinctly remember our instructor taking us through an exercise where we thought back to that place in time to our most memorable learning experience. For most of us, it was a place where freedom of choice was top on that list, along with mix-aged grouping, activities that were interest-driven and allowed us to move around a lot…or not. So my daughter was on to something. What if school looked more like summer camp?
When I walked into work a few days ago, I opened up my email with a message from one of my colleagues who teaches fifth-grade language arts (you can check her out here). The subject of the email read: “Global School Play Day.” If you knew anything about me, you would know I was immediately intrigued and opened my email curious about its content. Her email, like many of her emails to me, read something like, “I think you may find this interesting…” and I did. Global School Play Day, created by two teachers, The Bedley brothers (Tim and Scott), and supported by child psychologist and scholar, Peter Gray, is an event used to raise awareness about the need for play in the lives of children. Gray writes about it here in his recent post in Psychology Today. With the rise in standardized testing, common standards, and the push for “rigorous-anity” we are hearing, our children are missing out on a necessary component to their lives. Children need play, particularly free, unstructured play, but more and more, our schools are seeing play slowly fading out of the school day. Some teachers and administrators even think recess is a privilege and will punish students by keeping them in from recess. The American Academy of Pediatrics warns against this very thing. Check it out for yourself:
Moreover, they say withholding recess should not be a form of punishment. Recess, they added, is an important part of child development and provides social interaction that children may not get during class time.
Sigh. I never understood that. In fact, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child cites play as a basic human right. So is it abusive when we withhold play from our children? In Olga S. Jarrett’s research they reference different countries that acknowledge the importance of play for their children, citing the amount of time they allocate to this activity.
Japanese children get 10-20 minute breaks between 45-minute lessons or five-minute breaks and a long lunch. Finnish and Turkish children have 15 minutes to play after each 45 minutes of work. Ugandan students have an eight-hour school day, but they have a half hour of play in the morning, one hour for lunch and play, and 1.5 hours of activity time (sports, music, art, free-choice playtime) in the afternoon.
Okay, so can someone PLEASE explain to me why we see such little value of play for students in the United States? Where did we possibly go wrong?
My students and I get into these extended discussions on education and play and learning, and what we are doing wrong and could do better. These brilliantly insightful humans even often tell me that they feel like they are working a full-time job. I mean think about it, they are in school for 6 ½ hours with only 50 minutes of lunch and recess. By the time they really get to sit down and eat, they have about 15 minutes for lunch and another 15 minutes for recess. That is not nearly enough time for either lunch or recess. My ideal school would give students about 30-40 minutes for lunch, and another 30-40 minutes for free, unstructured play. I know one principal whose teachers have activities set up for students to play with the oversight of teachers to ensure all are safe. I know it may be a little wishful thinking, but I can dream can’t I?
However, this brings us to what I have planned for my students on February 4, 2015. We will be participating in Dr. Gray’s initiative to re-introduce play into our learning environments and draw awareness to what the research tells us about its importance to child and human development. It is nature’s gift to us to help us learn, acquire skills and defenses. It is nature’s way of helping us develop socially, mentally, and physically. And we hope you will help us explore this natural tool for human development.
Below are the guidelines for participation in #GSPD:
How Does it Work?
First, please register your class/school to tell the world that you will be participating in GSPD 2015. If you do not teach students in grades PreK-6 and would like to register your vote of support, please use this form.
- EDUCATE Teach your students, parents, colleagues, and administration about the benefits and necessity of play. Perhaps you could share Peter Gray’s TEDx video with them on the decline of play in our culture.
- GET SOCIAL Invite your colleagues to participate in Global School Play Day 2015 (February 4.) Light the fire so others will catch the vision of returning the gift of play to this generation by talking about it on social media and in the teachers’ lounge. Write your own blog post encouraging your readers to join in on GSPD. Connect with the GSPD community by hashtagging your social media posts with #GSPD.
- CALL FOR TOYS Tell your class to bring anything they wish to play with to school on Wednesday, February 4th. The only restrictions: they must bring toys and these toys may NOT require batteries or electricity. No devices. Give them some ideas, since today’s kids rarely play and often own very few toys: board games, dolls, Legos, blocks, trucks, cars, racetracks, playing cards, empty cardboard boxes, markers, jigsaw puzzles, blankets (for forts), social games (charades, Pictionary, etc.) The only exception on the electronics rule would be a board game that has an electronic timer, an electronics play kit, or similar. How about taking your students out in the dirt or snow to dig, explore and get messy?
- PLAY! On February 4, do the following: Allow your students to spread their toys out around the room and just PLAY! Don’t organize anything for your students. Don’t tell them how to play with the toys/games. Don’t interfere with your students unless you see something that could get you fired or would physically hurt a child (this does not include something that may be physically uncomfortable for a child.) Other than taking a few pictures/videos, try to be invisible and let the kids play.
- SHARE After the event, be sure to share your pictures, ideas, and reactions on social media (with parent consent) and hashtag them #GSPD. Comment here on this blog post about how it went or add a post to your blog sharing about the experience. Ask your students to share about GSPD as well!
What if… you can’t run your Global School Play Day on February 4th? Do it on another day! The important thing is your kids and colleagues need to be freed from thinking that play is a waste of time and begin to see the value in it.
What if… you want your students to play outside? All the better! Mix it up and play both inside and out.
What if… you don’t want to play ALL day? That’s fine. Make it the hour of play. Again, the point of Global School Play Day is to raise awareness and start discussions.
What if… you want to do GSPD with your class and they’re older than 12? Go for it! Big kids need to play, too!
What if… you want to jump in and play with your kids? Can adults play, too? That’s up to you, but the concept of GSPD is to get kids playing freely without adult intervention or structure. If you get down on the floor with your kids, be sure to let them just play. Resist the temptation to organize, discipline, and teach.
Global School Play Day is for public schools, private schools, and homeschool families! Let’s spread the word about the benefits of play. If anyone asks why you’re doing this, just tell them, “…because kids have forgotten how to play!”
Peter Gray’s message to educators
I encourage you all to join us in this day, but in the meanwhile, check out Dr. Gray’s Ted Talk.
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