What About Play?

by BreAnn Fennell

Think about what you like to do after a long day. It might be logging into social media, listening to podcasts, going to the gym, or watching a show on Netflix. We do these things to wind down and to activate parts of our brains that make us feel happy. Play can do this same thing for students and our children. I’m BreAnn Fennell. I’m a mom of two boys, teacher of 1st and 2nd-grade students, and author of Play? Yay! published with Edumatch Publishing.


Recess is so important for children. Our school has two blocks of recesses worked into our schedule with the freedom to take mindfulness or movement break as needed by our classes? I know this is not the case for all schools. As a matter of fact, I know my niece’s middle school had zero recess breaks. Do you think that middle schoolers no longer need a recess? Do you believe students should have phones at school? Those two things aren’t related, but if you believe their brains need a break at lunch to scroll through their phones then you better believe they could use some time outside to stroll around a grassy area and breathe fresh air.

What can you do if you can not convince others that your students have the right to some recess?

Bring these points to the table.

Research shows that:

1) When students have time for unstructured play they are using problem-solving skills.

2) Children, especially male children, may look like they are fighting, this is a natural source of play but we get alarmed when we see it. Look to see if the play is reciprocal. Instead of sitting students out when they do something wrong, teach them expected behaviors and then let them try again.

3) Look for children who are not engaged with other children, they may not know what to do with unstructured time.

4) Teach children games that you used to play at recess and then step back. If materials are there often times they will try out these games with each other. 4-square was one of my favorites to teach and I integrated it into social studies standards about rules.

5) Neighborhood pick-up games do not happen as much as they used to. Give children a ball and watch all the ways they think to use it!

Play in the Classroom

Have you ever wondered if your students still have toys in their homes? I have. There is a balance between tech and toys, but it doesn’t mean you have to get rid of one to enjoy the other.

Some of my favorite items to have in the classroom for play are open-ended.

I’m not Oprah but here are my favorite things:

1) Legos

2) Magnatiles

3) Colorforms

4) Marble Run materials

5) Blocks

6) Pattern Blocks

7) Cardboard boxes or recycled materials

Global School Day of Play

There is a global movement of having an unstructured day of play. You can find out more details here: My classroom signed up for this day and so did several classes in our school building. What if you can’t spend a whole day with unstructured play because you can’t get permission? Do an hour, participate on a different day (approved party day), write a letter to administration tell why you want to try this next year!

How did you play today?


Life on the Playground

by VJ Stanley

As a primary school teacher for the last 10 plus years, I have always loved taking my classes out onto the playground. You get to know your students in a whole different way as you watch them "free play". Children spend a large part of their days being told what and when they are going to do things and ways to think about things. Teachers place them into homogeneous groups and heterogeneous groups to work on problems. Many primary teachers also assign seats so students are told where to sit and whom to sit next to. (There are many sound educational reasons that these decisions happen.)

Enter...the playground. Recess, it's most kids favorite part of the school day. I have students who cannot tell time, but they know when recess happens. If we ever miss recess, half the class lets me know it.

As we burst out of the school onto the playground, choices happen and groups form almost instantly. You have the group who loves to swing on the swings and see whose feet can touch the sky first. Then there is another group who imagines they are the "good" guys and the other group who are the "bad" guys (they have to take turns on this one), and they run full speed ahead trying to catch each other. Then you have the group who are competing to see who can get across the overhead ladder the fastest. And then the group who just likes to hang out under the slide chatting.

Leaders of those groups form and it is interesting to see how that leadership takes shape. If leaders don't think about the group as a whole, they are quickly ignored, and possibly avoided, and the group quickly follows another who values the group's wishes. All of these decisions happen without an adult orchestrating the process. Students who might not get the opportunity to lead, because maybe physical prowess is not valued in the classroom, get the chance to shine. Their self esteem soars!

Multi-ethnic Group of Friends