Thornapple Kellogg School District

Skip to main content

Global School Play Day Gives Kids a Chance to Just Play

A group of energetic boys set up a race track and car launcher. They whooped and hollered when the cars launched further and further across the room.

     In another classroom, bed sheets were draped over desks and chairs to make a giant fort for students and down the hall, students donned their winter attire to go sledding for an afternoon.

     And it all happened at school when McFall kindergarten and first-grade teachers joined in Global School Play Day.

     “I wish every day could be play day,” said Tolan.

    Briggs was totally in his own world playing “pretend” with his ship. “It's one of my favorites,” he said of the toy. “I play with it a lot at home sometimes.”

    Emily Bush built a block pen for her toy stuffed animal cow and Alaina Piering took her stuffed animal, a cat, for a walk as the two girls used their imaginations and creativity.

   “It's kind of crazy,” admitted teacher Cathy Leaf as she looked at the students bouncing from one activity to the next.  “But it's fun. They're having fun just being kids and playing. They don't have time to do that enough.”

Some classrooms spent the whole day in just unscheduled play – letting the children pick what they wanted to do. Others took just a portion of the day to devote to the unscheduled and unplugged time.

   Leaf said the only real requirements in her classroom for the day were:  to have fun and not use anything electronic.

“No Kindles, no iPads, no phones, nothing electronic. It's a day to completely unplug and just play,” said Leaf.

   Principal Jon Washburn said he thought it was a great idea and encouraged his staff at McFall to participate for at least part of the day.

   “We want to limit screen time just for one day and just get away from technology and let kids be kids,” he said. “They don't get enough time to do that.”

   “In our world today with all the electronics, we're losing the face-to-face communication skills and the abilities to get along with each other and share,” said Washburn. “That's what they are doing today.”

   He said from the time students start kindergarten, they are so driven to learn and have schedules. “This is going to be nice. They're going to just get to play.”

   Leaf said studies have shown children learn best through play and in her kindergarten class there is some play time every day. But it's nothing quite like National Play Day where Leaf said she let the children choose what they wanted to do all day. There was no structured time, no choices made for students by the teacher.

   “I'm just here to make sure there aren't any major problems. But I want the students to work things out and share and figure out what they want to do next,” she said.

   Each child was encouraged to bring in some of their favorite toys from home  - board games, stuffed animals, dolls, cars, trucks,  puzzles, even bed sheets to make a fort.

   During the morning, Leaf's room seemed like a bunch of busy ants had taken over, as students bounced from one activity to the next wanting to make sure they took in everything and not sticking with any one thing too long. But before long, they started to settle down into groups and just played.

   “This is good old-fashioned playing,” said Leaf. “It's totally hands on.”

   She said she liked that students learned new games, handled their own conflicts, and shared with others. And what she saw of the children just playing with each other, made her smile. “They are learning. They are learning how to interact with each other.”

   Global School Play Day started in 2015 when a small group of educators were concerned that adults and technology were encroaching too much on play time for kids. According to founders for Global School Play Day they were concerned about the increasing amount of homework for students, the strict schedules students face in school and in after-school activities, and how much time students spend using technology and not using their imaginations, playing pretend or playing with other children. In 2015, more than 283,000 students around the world were expected to take part in Global School Play Day, put down their books and pencils, not worry about schedules or homework – and just play.