Thornapple Kellogg School District

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McFall Gives Time For Kids Just to be Kids

"I love it," said Piper Nagtzaam as she and a kindergarten friend played Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots. "I wish we could do it every day."

The only real rules for the special day were no electronics were allowed - no computers or video games. And the most important rule - was for kids to have fun being kids.

"It gives them (young students) more time to be a kid," said kindergarten teacher Jacob Bultema. "It's very important that they get time to just play."

Teacher Lauren Heth agreed. "Kids have so much going on and with all the state standards and mandates, it's had to have time just to play. This gives them a chance to just free play, problem solve and interact with other students," said Heth. "It's a whole day to just be 6 years old."

Students were encouraged to bring in favorite toys or games from home. They bounced from one game to the next, sharing their beloved toys with friends and getting a chance to play with toys.

For the most part, teachers took a backseat in the classrooms simply observing. And what they saw mostly was kids just having fun, but also kids learning to work together, figure out problems on their own, be creative and use their imaginations.

A large bucket of Legos was emptied on the floor in Sarah Hartman's room where a group of first graders was building their own little community - each with their own home.

In Michelle DeVries' room, students performed their own puppet shows and took up a very enthusiastic game of Twister.

Some played quietly with stuffed animals or Star Wars figures. Some played quietly by themselves or with just one or two friends while others gathered in groups. For the most part, they didn't stay in one place too long - almost as if they were afraid they might miss something going on in some other corner of the room.

Rooms were filled with cup stacking, cars and trucks racing around the room, forts made out of blankets and sheets, Power Rangers and Transformers, games of Candyland, Chutes and Ladders, and Sorry, and pretend play of school, house, and even veterinary to a host of stuffed animals.

"What a wonderful way for the students to learn to work and play together," said first-grade teacher Karen Seifert.

For some teachers, it was a little hard letting go of the structure and control they typically have in their classrooms but said it was good to just sit back and observe the students as they interacted with each other and shared toys and games.

Cathy Leaf said she enjoys seeing the kids just having fun and learning from each other. "It's interesting to see the interactions they have," she said. "This is so good for them."

This is the second year McFall teachers have joined in the Global School Play Day that started as a movement in 2015. In all, more than 285,000 students from six continents formally registered for the global day according to the Global School Play Day website.

Global School Play Day was started by a small group of educators because of their growing concern that adults and technology were encroaching on valuable play time for children. These organizations saw schools eliminating or reducing recess time, more and more homework being assigned, and children's after-school time scheduled with events, sports and activities. The parents were inspired to take action by Dr. Peter Gay in his TEDx talk where he argued the case that today's kids do not grow up playing, which has led to an increase in childhood depression, stress-related issues and the highest suicide rates in history.