CHARLOTTESVILLE — Imagine a day where students get to come to school and play — all day long. That’s what is happening at Eastern Hancock schools today. District officials are taking part for the second time in a national program called Global School Play Day.
The event is designed to encourage unstructured play the whole day, something educators say is incredibly valuable for the social development of students who are not allowed to use their electronic devices. Global School Play Day is observed annually and promotes the importance of unstructured, regular play for children. The campaign was started by a group of six educators in 2015.
Officials note that statistics show over the past 60 years in the United States there has been a gradual but, overall, dramatic decline in children’s freedom to play with other children without adult direction. Over this same period, there has been a gradual but overall dramatic increase in anxiety.
Eastern Hancock officials learned about the nationwide program last year after it had happened in early February and decided to go ahead and hold a Global Play Day the last day of classes before spring break. They had such a great time doing it last year district officials decided to hold the day-long play event at the same time this year.
Second grade teacher Lindsey Eck helped bring the idea to the district last year and is organizing this year’s event.
“It’s so nice knowing we’re just going to have a fun day of play,” Eck said. “The kids get excited for the day and look forward to coming to school.”
Eck noted the whole day is dedicated to letting kids play, participate in art and sports activities and develop social skills, making new friendships with students they might not normally hang out with.
“There is a study that shows it takes kids 30 to 45 minutes to actually really get into a playtime mode,” Eck said. “When we do our normal recess, we do notice some kids don’t really do much of anything during the allotted time.”
The goal of Global Play Day is to let the students dive in and somewhat lose themselves in play.
“The teachers don’t organize anything,” Eck said. “We’ll let them bring things in, but there will be no screen time.”
Elementary school principal Amanda Pyle noted all of the grades in the district are participating for the entire day.
“We think it is extremely important for kids to have opportunities for creative play,” Pyle said. “Oftentimes, the day is so structured due to rules and mandates that the creative play component is often pushed to the side.”
Teachers will remain in the classroom for supervision but the students will lead the day, deciding what activity they want to participate in. Kids were encouraged to bring in items from home, such as games, Legos, action figures, dolls and more.
“The only thing we request is that the toy they bring is not an electronic item,” Pyle said.
She noted one of the most enjoyed activities last year was simply building and creating out of cardboard.
“It was so fun to walk around and see how kids were choosing to use their time,” Pyle said. “I must say their creativity blew me away and they would tell you it was the best day ever.”
The play day teaches students, parents, colleagues and administrators about the benefits and necessity for play. National organizers say it’s best if teachers don’t organize anything for students; don’t tell them how to play with the toys or games; don’t interfere with students unless the kids are involved in something that could get them hurt or in trouble; and don’t leave the students unsupervised as the day is unstructured by adults, but not unsupervised.
Superintendent George Philhower likes the premise behind Global Play Day and said school should be a place kids look forward to going to.
“School should be fun,” he said. “Sometimes it’s good to hit the pause button and focus on having fun, and I bet we learn things during this time of unstructured play that we will use on the other days of the year.”