Learning Through Play at the Junior School

A few minutes before sending his Grade 5 class out to play, Mr. Matt Kiel asked them a question: What is the point of play?

Students were quick to defend their need for playtime as a way to “try new things,” “have fun,” “get fit” and “interact with others.” As the in-class discussion progressed, students offered more insight into why play is important and how it helps as a way to de-stress and allow their minds to relax.

“Did you notice that there were many different reasons for play? And there are many different benefits that we get from play,” Matt says. “Adults need play, too. It’s probably the best thing for relieving stress and sometimes we all just need to get out and really go play and do something really fun.”

Enter Global School Play Day. Now in its second year, the entire Junior School participated in the worldwide event on Wednesday as a way to promote the benefits of play.

“A day like this is a chance for us to really celebrate the importance of play in a child’s life and to shine a light on the fact that we really value play,” says Ms. Kathleen Cook, assistant director of the Junior School. “It’s a child’s way of learning, and unstructured play can be particularly beneficial when you give the children the tools to experiment and be creative.”

On Wednesday, K-5 students had access to all the games, toys, sports equipment, musical instruments, art supplies and costumes at the Junior School. And (perhaps more importantly) they were all given unstructured time to do what they want and play with whoever they want.

The gym was packed full of students playing basketball and hula-hooping, rolling on the gymnastics mats and playing in a makeshift ball pit. All the classrooms offered something fun, too, including tons of Lego, board games, chess boards, action figures, typewriters, xylophones, Play-Doh and more.

The organizers of the Global School Play Day point to Dr. Peter Gray’s Tedx talk, “The Decline of Play” as a prime reason why play is necessary. In the talk (scroll down to watch the video), Dr. Gray cites research that points to the reality that there has been a gradual decline in free play over the past 60 years for children, while over the same period there has been an increase in social and emotional development issues.

Student Reflections

Grade 1 students were asked “Why do we need play?”

“You get exercise.” – by Haley

“So your brain can develop properly and you can use your imagination.” – by Bowen

“You need to have free time some time in your life to stretch your body and make your brain better.” – by Eli

Grade 2 students were asked “What is play? How is play different from work?”

“Play is when you can let your brain explode. You don’t have to think about very many things. For instance, you don’t have to think at recess. Work is different from play because you have to think when you work.” – by Annie

“Play is when you are having fun with something. It’s different from working because working is when you focus and do math and paperwork. Playing is when you pretend – for example, flying an airplane.” – by Tommy

“There are many different ways of play. Play is sometimes by yourself as well as with others. When you play by yourself you can make up different games and imagine different people. When you play with other people they can help you think of new games. Work is different from play because people tell you what to do. Sometimes work is fun because when you do math, writing, helping people and reading you can learn something new.” – by Sophie

“Play is important because without play, life would be boring. Play is different from work because work is harder and not as fun. I feel joyful when I play. Play is good for kids.” – by Kali

“Play is different from work because when you work you have to concentrate very hard, but when you play you can run around the field, playground and the concrete.” – by Fung-Ei

“Play is when you are happy and kind to other people and have good sportsmanship. It is when you are calm and peaceful, and when you are very nice and make new friends. Work is when you are stressed out.” – by Eliot

Check out more photos from Global School Play Day on the SMUS Photo Gallery.

(photos by Gordon Chan and Kyle Slavin)


Dr. Peter Gray’s TEDx Talk: The Decline of Play:


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