Teaching Opinion

Global School Play Day Reminds Us Of The Importance of Play

By Starr Sackstein — January 14, 2016 2 min read
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Guest post by Eric Saibel

As a father and educator, I observe the inexorable role of play in the daily life of children. Play is a child’s default setting, interrupted only by some natural cycles (like sleep) and other quotidian obligations. At my school I see students running and playing every spare moment they can.The need for play - as both creative outlet and survival tool - is a tectonic force deep within us.

So why does the idea of play seem so contrary to the idea of school?

At some point, society began to see play as separate from serious learning and work - the opposite of productive endeavor. The traditional model of school reserves play as something to be done at set times and places, sometimes as a reward for good behavior.

With recent articles in The Atlantic and The New York Times highlighting overwhelming amounts of stress for teens in some of the highest-performing schools in the Bay Area, now is a great time to reconsider the importance of play in school and life. Research strongly supports this; play is a catalyst for connecting synapses, developing empathy, nurturing creativity and bolstering happiness.

So how can we tap into that magic potion in our decades-long struggle to improve education?

In early 2015, a group of educators saw a TEDx talk from Dr. Peter Gray about the decline of play in our society and decided to create a day - just one out of 180 - dedicated to unstructured play for kids. A month later, with shoestring promotion through social media, the first ever Global School Play Day took place on February 4, 2015. Over 65,000 children from six continents participated.

Play isn’t just for the youngest kids; why shouldn’t high school (or college) seniors feel just as joyful about their learning as kindergartners? Education needs to rethink its age-old mindset that fun is frivolous and that free choice is somehow contrary to rigorous learning. We must also remember another important fact: adults thrive and learn through play as well.

Play is a design laboratory, an exercise in problem-solving and collaboration. Play builds physical muscle and emotional resilience. Play is our first - and best - learning methodology.

Help your local school reinvest in the power and potential of play by encouraging them to sign up for this global event on February 3. This year we hope to see more schools and districts embrace play as an essential element of learning. Instead of 65,000 students, why not 65 - or 650 - million? Each and every one of them needs play as much as the other.

You can find more information at globalschoolplayday.com. With a Perspective, I’m Eric Saibel.

Eric Saibel is the Assistant Principal at Hall Middle School in Larkspur, CA after 16 years as a high school Assistant Principal and Spanish teacher. He is interested in how inclusive, emotionally intelligent leadership fosters school cultures that center on student growth, ongoing organizational learning and shared risk-taking. Co-founder of Global School Play Day - over 65,000 kids on six continents participated in 2015, aiming for 1M in February 2016! Blogging about the intersection of leadership, learning and creativity at Principalsintraining.wordpress.com. Presenter on social media in instructional pedagogy and adaptive leadership models. 2014 Bammy Award nominee for Secondary Principal of the Year. Big fan of the outdoors as humanity's first (and best) classroom. Find him at @ecsaibel.

The opinions expressed in Work in Progress are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.