The importance of play

Global play day just went by on the 3rd of February, much to the teachers’ and students’ delight. When I enrolled my boys into their first ‘big kids school’ in Gurgaon, they ended up joining on Global Play Day unbeknownst to us. They were in pre-nursery and kindergarten, so the stress of having the little ones enter an imposing yet beautiful castle-like structure was palpable. I was also due to join the same school as a teacher in a few weeks, and I felt this was the first test of strength while heading towards an unknown future. I had been a stay at home mother for the last four years, and working again was something that I was itching to get back to, and it all depended on my children settling in with as much ease as possible.

Both of my boys were escorted to their classrooms by smiling teachers as I stood by myself, feeling tense and yet relieved. The whole day went by without a hitch, even though my hands never left my phone in case the school called. It was only later that I realized that the 3rd of February was Global Play Day, and my children’s seamless adjustment to school life was probably because they never felt like they were in the confines of a ‘typical school’. The children were exposed to a plethora of activities and games throughout, and they were thrilled to go back to school the next day.

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The world is coming to realize the importance of play in learning. Developing creative and critical thinking skills that are not confined to the four walls or cookie-cutter molds can bring about the formation of knowledge that adheres to children for all of their lives. If I look back on my childhood, I do not remember learning my ABC’s in a classroom. Still, I remember playing monopoly with my friends, learning to navigate the jungle gym, and even negotiating over candy and snacks at recess. 

As an educator, I can almost see the learning sinking in when I use play in some form while teaching and learning. My Grade 3 students sometimes struggle with math concepts. I researched ways to gamify math and came across a wonderful site through Coursera’s guided project network called ‘Prodigy .’ Teachers can set math concepts before the class and assess them through the results tab. The students become captivated by the storyline, winning Wizard battles by solving math problems and levelling their character up. The gratification is instant. Play is just as important while teaching on a daily basis to ensure that students enjoy learning.

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While in lockdown, play gained even more importance at home and I began to see how my children also began to respond beautifully to daily structured or unstructured play. We worked with what we had but created imaginative storylines, role-played, and more. Bryce and Jared spent hours immersed in these activities. I realized that my learning as a teacher had transcended boundaries and had crept into my heart and home.

Creating balloon figures
Role playing with fruit and vegetable peels
The delight of discovery

Since we were working with children remotely in this pandemic scenario, our school decided to have a dedicated time for unstructured play on Global Play Day 2021. We pulled out all the stops to ensure that the learners would be engaged in fun activities that would pique their interest and engage them in play, even though they could not step out of their lodgings. We encouraged the children to set up their own private space within their homes and create a ‘cozy nook’ of their own. The students took ownership of their areas, personalized them, and enjoyed the feeling of accomplishment once they had created their own space. My sons made tents of their own in their bedroom and were raring to go for the Global Play Day soiree. As parents, we often forget that even the smallest of children need to feel like they are in control of the space around them. The beaming smiles said it all, even before the event began!

Jared in his tent, eagerly waiting for the celebrations to begin!

As Bryce and Jared got ready for their celebrations in their room, I grew excited too. After all, we’re never too old to play! I also decided to create a tent for myself and take part in the festivities. The infectious nature of play was slowly taking over my whole household.

Once my tent was constructed, I fetched a cup of coffee and began to organize the material required to entertain my students. By the time I came back, I had found our pit-bull Candle enjoying my play-space. I think she wanted a change of scene as well!

As the evening commenced, students were overjoyed to PLAY. Since the lockdown, some of them have not even left their houses. Others miss their friends and the park. Playing memory games, dance-statue, and fashioning foodscapes created opportunities to laugh together. The students felt cherished, appreciated, and refreshed.

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At home, we have kept up the
This year, ‘play’ has reminded us of something vital, something the children should never lose- their childhood. It showed us how important play is in all of our lives and has given us hope that one day we will not need to remind our children how important it is to play.

Children need the freedom and time to play. Play is not a luxury. Play is a necessity.”

– Kay Redfield Jamison

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