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Friday, February 15, 2019


Many of you already know Angie Bonthius from her fantastic website She's been my friend for years and I've always admired her commitment to "kindergarten"! Last week her school embraced GLOBAL SCHOOL PLAY DAY and I asked her to write a blog about it. I had tears in my eyes reading it I was so excited!!! I HOPE this day will grow so all children can have one special memory of a day when SCHOOL WAS PLAY!

On Friday, February 8th the PK-2nd grade school I teach at (and love!), participated in Global School Play Day for the first time.

When we first heard about Global School Play Day (GSPD), I was really intrigued. I truly believe play is so important to our kids, and worry a lot about what all the time our students spend on screen time is doing to their development. As a staff, we often talk about how kids don't play enough anymore, and that kids need more opportunities to solve problems, resolve conflicts, create, and use their imaginations. We loved the idea of a whole day where students were engaged in unstructured play, and our principal, an amazing early childhood advocate, was all for the idea.

As our GSPD date approached, we were really excited, but a little nervous on the logistics. Would the kids just be CRAZY? Could we get the whole staff on board? What would parents think? We put a committee together and tried to structure a day that didn't have a lot of structure, plan for any problems that might come up, as well as make sure everyone involved had the information they needed.

We sent letters out to parents the week before, explaining our plan and our reasons for wanting to promote more unstructured play in our students. We included a list of things they could bring: board games, legos, dolls, stuffed animals, books, blankets; as well as things they should leave at home (no electronics/technology, no toys with weapons, and if it's really fragile or special, you might not want to bring it.) We also asked them to bring a sack lunch. The feedback we received was extremely positive. We received only positive feedback. Parents were excited.

In the days approaching our GSPD, my kindergartners couldn't wait. They talked a lot about what they wanted to bring from home. One of my students told me every morning that week how she was going to bring her ukulele she just got for Christmas, so the other children could all sit and watch her play. Our School Counselor took time in Guidance class all week to talk with each class about what the day would look like and to answer any questions they might have. The most asked questions were about electronics, and if they could play in the principal's office. The kids were excited.

We had a staff meeting a couple of days before the big day. We gave everyone the schedule for the day and answered lots of questions. A big focus of our meeting was that we really wanted the day to be student led. That meant we were not going to organize the play, or tell them how to play, or step in to solve problems whenever possible. We discussed special needs students, and the role of our special ed associates, and tried to plan for issues that might come up.

We also told the staff that we wanted them playing too! No working on lesson plans, or cutting out lamination. We had to find things to do so we could supervise, but be a little invisible. We didn't want adults playing with kids, we felt that really changed the dynamics. We were going to encourage all students to go find someone to play with. We discovered that a lot of teachers didn't really know what to do with themselves with those restrictions! The teachers were excited (but a little anxious).

When the day finally came, it all just fell into place. As I walked into the building with my craft supplies, books, and games in tow, you could feel the energy fill the building. A parent told me, as she dropped her first grader off, "I don't think she slept last night, she was so excited!".

We started our day in the classrooms. Took attendance and got lunch count for anyone that didn't bring a lunch, had a quick reminder to listen for intercom announcements, to remember to take a bathroom break every now and then, and to put your toys from home back in your locker when you were done with them. We then sent them out the door at 8:15 with boxes of matchbox cars and huge stuffed unicorns in hand.

When I dismissed my class to "go play!", there was a 3 second pause. I think they were still pretty amazed that this day was REALLY going to be all about play. Then suddenly, they all jumped up, and I got lots of hugs, as they headed out the door to find their fun.

It took a little while. For the first 15 minutes or so, the hallways were full as students seemed to just kind of circle the building. Some students, especially our oldest kids, struggled to find a place to "settle", but slowly the hallways cleared as they found somewhere to play.

The preschool and kindergarten classrooms were pretty popular, I assume because they have a lot of things to play with, and also for the "nostalgia" factor. I had a group of 2nd grade girls who came down right away and asked me for some materials they had loved when they were in my class. It was obviously planned as their very first stop. The dramatic play, sensory table, and block center were never empty in my room.

Our gym was set up with rotating activities through out the day that weren't lead by adults, but still kept kids safe. Students played basketball, kicked balls, and did some tumbling. The lunchroom was filled with cardboard boxes and "makedo" tools ( That was really popular. The art room was open with materials available to draw, paint, and sculpt. One 2nd grade classroom had the lights off and flashlights available. Kids also just sat in groups in the hallways building with marbleworks, playing with dinosaurs, and arguing over board games.

Originally, we had planned to have the playground as an option, but since it was -25 out, we were inside all day.

Our teachers and staff set up card tables outside the classrooms and gathered in groups to color, play games, and do craft projects. We were there to supervise, but not direct the play. In my kindergarten hall, we eventually had a "dolly daycare" set up for when our pint-sized mommies needed a break from carrying them around the building.

We took a break at about 9:30, and had everyone come back to their classrooms for a quick snack and milk break, and to discuss any problems, then sent them on their way again. At 12:00, we did another all call for kids to come back to their classrooms to get their lunch boxes, and sent them off to find somewhere to eat. At 2:30, we announced it was time to stop what they were doing, and help clean up the area they were in. All students were back in their classrooms by 2:45, and ready to load the buses at 3:15.

A few problems came up, including lost toys from home, and lots of kids going in circles looking for "lost" friends. We discovered quickly the kids who were just more comfortable hanging out with the grown ups, and we got pretty good at giving a list of exciting options to our reluctant players ("Have you been in the lunch room yet and seen what people are building?").

I found, in my classroom, it helped my "control issues" to periodically just straighten things up a little bit when kids weren't playing in an area. I closed my loft for safety reasons, and the rice in my sensory table was a bit crazy. The teacher next door to me had a sensory tub of fake snow out, a decision I'm pretty sure she regrets.

Lunch time was a hot mess with lots of milk spills and cupcakes in the carpet. In our planning sessions, we liked the idea of kids being able to eat with friends from other classes and grades or with their siblings. We had good intentions, but it might have been a bit much. There was a group of 2nd grade girls who walked around part of the morning with a clipboard, inviting people to eat lunch in one classroom. There were about 40 students in that room, and that teacher's carpet had to be cleaned, but there was no permanent damage. We've had some discussion about next year limiting the areas of the building they can eat. If they are all eating in the hallways, it would also be easier to supervise who is actually eating, and who didn't even really get started.

I thought clean up at the end of the day was going to be horrible. The lunchroom "cardboard city" looked like a huge messy hamster cage, and there was a lot of materials out in the classrooms. I was pleasantly surprised how quickly it all came back together when everyone pitched in. We almost had more time than we needed for clean up.

The staff had a BLAST. We are deep in the middle of assessment season, and it was wonderful to change the feel of the building for the day. We all loved seeing our students having so much fun. Also, it was refreshing to spend time with the people I work with everyday, in such a relaxed, fun way. I think it was a better bonding activity than any "team building" we've ever attended. We've already talked about projects we want to work on next year.

Most importantly, the kids LOVED it. I've never seen so many smiling faces. There were messes, and arguments, and running in the halls, and a few bathroom accidents, but the smiling, (and exhausted) faces walking out the door at the end of the day made it all well worth it.

We always talk about how we think play is important. Our day was a wonderful way to make sure our students know just how much we value their play.