Monday, 8 February 2016

Global School Play Day 2016

Last summer, while surfing through resources on Edmodo and Twitter, I stumbled upon a TEDx talk featuring Dr. Peter Gray, a research professor at Boston College. In the quick presentation, found here, he discusses the gradual decline of "play" in the United States over the past 60 years and postulates that this may be linked to the rise in mental health illness. (Clearly, my overly simplified version of his simplified version of his research).

Further investigation, likely the hashtag #GSPD2016, led me to the Global School Play Day website . Emboldened by my positive experiences with another Global Classroom experience - The Global Read Aloud program - I registered for the opportunity with little hesitation.

The Global School Play Day is exactly as it sounds. A specific school day (February 3rd this year and  February 1st in 2017) celebrated in classrooms around the world. Students are encouraged to PLAY! NO SCREENS - NO STRUCTURE - ALL DAY LONG. Teachers are provided with three simple instructions:

  • Don't organize anything for your students.
  • Don't tell them how to play with the toys/games.
  • Don't interfere with your students unless you see something that could get you fired or would physically hurt a child (this does not include something that may be physically uncomfortable for a child.)

Students are prepared in advance and invited to bring toys, games, craft supplies and more. Anything non-electronic that is safe for classroom or play with peers. Outdoor play is also encouraged, but is weather dependent. We are having an unseasonably warm February in Southwestern Ontario, Canada. The temperature that day was above 12℃ (54℉) and the sun even made a brief appearance, making it perfect for outdoor activities.

With great excitement, my students and I awaited the arrival of GSPD. Informational notes were sent home, plans were made, supplies were organized and anticipation built. My teaching colleague in the class next door had agreed to participate, so students could move from class-to-class (no hallway loitering) and one of us could provide supervision if a large enough group wanted to go outside.

On February 3rd, the morning bell rang and, shortly after jackets were hung and boots were replaced by sneakers. A cautious student approached me, his arms wrapped around a large, cardboard box wrapped in a slightly larger plastic bag.

“Can we just start playing?” he asked in a voice that was part hope and part trepidation.   

“Sure. Play.” I replied and, with those two words, we were off.

My Observations
Without exception, the day was enthusiastically embraced by students. They built forts out of desks & blankets, played football in the yard, challenged each other in friendly board games, created plays with dolls and even flexed their hustle-muscle on a mini-pool table. The room was loud, but never unruly, and laughter punctuated important discussions on game-play, rules, strategy and the importance of everything from the colour a costume should be to likelihood of a Denver victory in the upcoming Super Bowl. (NB: Denver was victorious)

Speaking of victory. It was interesting to see how different students dealt with winning and losing as the day went on. There were moments of obvious celebration and several students wanted to give me a brief “play-by-play” of their decisive strategy. Most of the students dealt with defeat positively and there were no issues that required intervention.

An interesting moment occurred when a student arrived late to a football game and was told that he could not join in. He came to me immediately, looking for the assistance that teachers regularly provide. My natural instinct was to investigate further, to ensure that he was not being excluded unfairly. I had noticed that the teams had 7 & 6 players respectively - so an extra body would only even things up. I paused, and then looked at him plainly and said “Well, what are you going to do then?” Minutes later, he was shouting and running with another group near the playground equipment. Problem solved - without teacher intervention.

This year, GSPD fell on a day when we had a gym period available. Obviously, the advantage of space was a boon. However, the idea that 50+ adolescent bodies would have unfettered access to equipment (basketballs, Nerf Footballs, Gator Balls, Beanbags, Hula Hoops) without implicit direction was worrisome. Reminding ourselves of the day’s mantra - PLAY! NO SCREENS - NO STRUCTURE - ALL DAY LONG - we acquiesced.

Interestingly, just before gym, something remarkable happened. A small group of girls circulated the classroom with a portable whiteboard. Their goal was to create a tally chart of the games students most wanted to play. They had identified, wisely, that the gym period would be a madhouse and they were trying to insert some form of democratic structure to the situation. Ideally, they would help facilitate organized games rather than enduring a 50 minute “free-for-all”.

Their efforts were in vain. Anarchy ruled supreme. The air was rife with projectiles and noise but, to their credit, issues of safety were respected. When the “time’s-up” whistle blew, clean-up began without request. Although, it should be noted, the students most helpful in the unstructured clean-up efforts were girls and the only students to avoid, or even disrupting, the efforts were a handful of boys. (Another tick in my mental checklist of “reasons why girl students are great.”)

The Debrief

My students are currently working on persuasive letters to be shared with teachers and classes that do not know about GSPD. I have been encouraging them to write for different audiences and this opportunity provided me with a good launching point. Prior to writing, we had a discussion about the problems and pitfalls that they encountered.

They identified the unstructured gym period for what it was. Fun, but potentially hazardous and eventually boring. They agreed that a structured game would have been better and it seemed they had a new respect for the activities I organize in gym.

They asked me if I was bored and, I have to admit, I was. Standing on tarmac watching a kids’ football game can only maintain my interest for so long. I did some Tweeting, using the hashtag #GSPD2016 and I got some pictures (some of which are featured here.)  Next year, I am going to get more involved. I am going to bring in a board game of my own and invite students to play it with me.

In conclusion, Global School Play Day is a worthwhile venture for the elementary classroom. I have already signed up for 2017 and I am going to promote it to my peers. Hopefully, my whole school will get involved next year.


  1. Thank you so much for the experience! I want to share your summary here with others. It's a great recap of the "eye opening" experince. I now find myself taking a small step back from solving student concerns and have seen some new independent gains.