So why do so many schools have a problem with play?
I find myself fighting an uphill battle with my school and play. The playground has undergone a $35 000 renovation with a brand new play structure built this year. However, if it has rained or is damp the students are not allowed on it. They are not allowed to toss a ball off the brick wall for catch or other ball games, and throwing a football has been outlawed, and if they could, soccer would be out too. There are big beautiful fields that are quick to be called "off limits" just in case someone might get wet or dirty. Duties (or playground supervisors) tell students where they may play on any given day. There are so many rules that students are just as happy, sometimes happier, to come inside at the end of recess, or not go out at all.
If you want to find a contributing factor to kids not wanting to go out and play at home, don't blame technology, blame schools that don't allow them to build these play skills and find a love for outdoor play. We need to be encouraging students to run, jump, balance, and get hurt. Now I am not hoping for an injuries, I just understand that it is a natural consequence of some play. That does not make it bad, or need to be banned. A little injury can help set boundaries for kids or let them know that they need to do something different next time.
Schools need to take the bubble wrap off the playground and the students, and take a stand that lets parents know that play is welcome and encouraged here, and that their children may get a bit dirty from time to time. Injuries will happen no matter how many rules are in place. After all, they still sell bathtubs, and those things are the cause of countless injuries!
We need to expand the play idea into classrooms, and see educational discovery and play as good things. Students also need the opportunity to have free play and be kids. There will be enough time to sit at a desk all day later in life.
Movements like Global School Play Day have helped bring these issues to light, but more is needed. Research is coming fast and furious, but schools are slow to adapt and change. Scared to "lose" valuable instructional time to drill curriculum into students, without realizing that students are building skills and learning academically through play.
Play can look different depending on the surroundings and that is good. We can play with technology to build a robot, program a computer or design wearable tech. We can play with writing, as we dive hands on into a topic before sharing thoughts, predictions, observations and stories about it. We can play with math, creating games the teach and reinforce skills. We can add gamification to our classes to draw in students, help with engagement and discipline. We can play freely with student created games, rules, and fun.
Students need this play, they need the skills developed through it. We as educators, parents, and stakeholders need to be on board with this. If you are in doubt about the value of play in or out of the classroom come visit me. My class loves to play, and we are learning more then ever!