February 3rd marks the 7th annual Global School Play Day. Global School Play Day (or GSPD, for short) is a grassroots effort that focuses on bringing awareness to the need for unstructured play time for children’s healthy development. The movement, which began back in 2014 with it’s first official GSPD occurring on February 4, 2015, encouraged students, educators, and schools around the globe to focus on one thing – play!

Eric Saibel, Director of Student Services in Ross Valley School District in San Anselmo, CA, is one of GSPD’s founders. Saibel, along with the other co-founders (including Misty Higgins, Oliver Schinkten, Scott Bedley, Tim Bedley, and Bethany Chaffin), are committed to raising awareness about the importance of unstructured play in the lives of all students.

Saibel states, “Our society is in the midst of a true mental health crisis for children: anxiety, depression, suicidality. The research – including ‘The Power of Play’ published in 2018 by the American Academy of Pediatrics – clearly articulates the holistic benefits of play for the overall growth, well-being and healthy development in children. GSPD asserts that schools can play a fundamental role in helping children experience more opportunities to tap into the benefits of unstructured play to push back against the decades-long ‘accountability’ trend that has schools more engineered to prepare kids to take standardized tests than to engage in highly personalized, relevant and creative learning.”

“The opportunity to play is also not a guarantee in every community; students might not live in neighborhoods where it’s easy or safe to simply ‘go out and play.’ In this way, schools form yet another critical piece in ensuring a more equitable society – one in which every child can just be a kid.”

Eric Saibel

Why is unstructured play important for students?

Although there’s been quite a bit of research on unstructured play (as evidenced by GSPD’s ever-growing list of articles and journals on the matter, Saibel hints at the most fundamental of reasons for play. “Fun. Friends. Community. Conflict – and figuring out the conflict to keep playing. Physical health and confidence (learning to climb, run, leap, fall, balance, throw, catch, etc.). Communication. Creativity (making up a game on the spot – changing it as it goes). And – it’s good for grownups too,” he states.

Any class, student, and school can get involved in this year’s GSPD. Last year, GSPD saw 563,283 participants from 75 nations. While this school year looks very different from last year, educators and students are still encouraged to participate, following safety guidelines and protocols.

Saibel encourages educators to get involved. “Signing up is as easy as visiting the website at www.globalschoolplayday.com and clicking on the sign-up link! The website has lots of great tips on how to set up a successful Play Day; best practice is to talk in advance with students (and parents) about parameters and boundaries to ensure safety, and just as importantly to help the students take ownership of the day and become play leaders,” he states. “While we encourage schools to dedicate one entire school day to unstructured play, we have many participants who spend an hour or half a day engaged in play. We also have schools that do multiple play days a year, or turn the first week of February into a ‘Play Week’ infused with lots of different activities related to GSPD. Support from site and district administrators can also help accelerate the process of transforming a school from ‘islands of play’ to a unified culture centered on play as beneficial for all – including adults!” Saibel comments.

Saibel directs educators to check out the GSPD website where a pleathora of resources and information await. He states, “Go to the website and on the left menu explore a number of resources, including research on play, reflections from past Play Day participants, links to our social media feeds, and ideas for Play Day during the COVID pandemic. We’ve been featured on several influential podcasts, starting with the Bedley Bros (hosted by co-founders Scott and Tim Bedley), Cult of Pedagogy and Mindshift. Additionally, there is a treasure trove of memories from the past six GSPD events; people can simply search the hashtags #GSPD2015, #GSPD2016, #GSPD2017, #GSPD2018, #GSPD2019 and #GSPD2020 on Twitter and Instagram to see stories and images from around the world. We hope to see new members of the growing global play community on February 3, 2021, for #GSPD2021!”

For more information, check out the Global School Play Day website here. You can also follow GSPD on Twitter or through their Facebook page.

About Kristin Oropeza
Kristin is a full-time special education teacher, contract consultant, and educational content writer. She is a Google Certified Teacher (Level 1 and 2), Google Certified Trainer, and MIE Expert for 2020-2021.