This was my first year participating in the Global School Day of Play and it scores right up there with one of the coolest classroom experiences of my teaching career. Don’t worry. At first, I was apprehensive of allowing my students an entire day of unstructured play. I had so many questions such as: What do I do all day? How will students behave when given an entire day of unstructured play? Will students get bored and or miss screens? What and will students learn? Every single question was answered and I was pleasantly surprised with the outcome of our day!
What do I do all day?
This question perhaps had me stumped right away. According to the Global School Day of Play website, teachers are not to organize, tell students how to play, or interfere with their play for the entire day. Basically teachers are invisible all day. At first I thought oh I could maybe catch up on some teachery things, but then I realized there were no screens. Now while I realize I am the teacher and can change the rules, I also want to model for my students, so computer usage was out. Interestingly enough my mind started wondering to a quiet calming activity that I could do while keeping my eyes and ears open to my students. Enter adult coloring books! YES! Not that I needed an excuse, but I now had a perfectly good one to buy what I had been eyeing at Barnes and Noble for the last 6 months. I couldn’t wait to go pick it up and then there was the matter of what medium I would use to color with. I found myself getting very excited at the idea of having play time for myself! Teacher activity planned: check!
How will students behave when given an entire day of unstructured play?
Whenever teachers hear the word unstructured, I think we all cringe just a little bit inside. For some reason we tend to not give kids enough credit. We are control freaks by nature and often want lessons to fit neatly inside little plan book boxes. Now don’t get me wrong, I am a #tlap girl through and through, but have never had an entire day of unstructuredness. I have had moments, time periods, and activities, but never an entire day. Could they do it? YES and it was beautiful! The first 3 hours I encountered no problems. ZERO. AND the best part was I saw students playing with classmates I had never seen them play with before. Their use of manners was astonishing and refreshing. They can do it so note to self, I must harness this for days that aren’t the Global School Play day.
The neatest part of being invisible was students were forced into problem solving on their own. Mind you, I was always nearby and keeping a listening ear to see if I needed to step in. However, most of the time they figured it out. There were a few times I almost stepped in or felt I should. But, I stopped myself and those students learned way more by problem solving on their own then if I would have helped.
I will say that at the 3 hour mark, have some sort of transitional activity. It can be a bathroom and drink break, or switch up the location. At the 3 hour mark we had an issue with a car. However, after a brief reflection with the student and a redirection, the successfully played the rest of the day. The great thing is they are motivated to do whatever it takes to get back to the fun so even if something went down, it didn’t last very long.
Will students get bored and or miss screens?
In a world dominated by devices and screens, I must admit I was worried with this rule. I was glad this rule was in place mind you but worried students would be bored. To help them, I had posted the following acronym on the board inspired by Pinterest:
Observe Play (reflect)
Read a book
Do something helpful
The words I’m bored were never uttered once in my classroom. It has also carried through on other days as well! I saw students play in a way I had never seen them play before and it was eye opening as a teacher. I have always said I can learn a ton about a child by their artwork. I think watching them play is now added to that list.
What and will students learn?
This was the one question that I was most nervous about. I know there is value in play, but would the students realize that? To help us reflect, I had students brainstorm what they thought they would learn by playing the day before. See our list below:
Then afterwards, we created a new list (see below)
WOW! Once again kids prove adults don’t give them enough credit!
Overall, I felt this was the neatest experience. If you haven’t tried it, I highly recommend you do. If anything it taught me how important play is. I think we often forget that we teach kids. Yes they are multiplying, reading chapter books, and analyzing texts but they are still kids. Kids need to play and as educators we must find some way to harness that creativity and unstructuredness.
To end, designer Tim Brown discussed play at the 2008 Serious Play conference. My two favorites that he said that really hit home with me were:
“Play is not anarchy. Play has rules especially when it’s group play. When kids play tea party or cops & robbers they’re following a script that they’ve agreed to. It’s this code/negotiation that leads to productive play.”
“There aren’t just rules about how to play but there are rules about when to play. Kids don’t play all the time. They transition in and out of it. Good teachers take a lot of time figuring out how to move kids in and out of these experiences.”
Goal: Harness the power of play every day!