3 Ways to Prioritize Play During the School Day

Go Back to Journal
  1. Incorporate play throughout the day at all levels
    Play can be used at any time throughout the day to support students in the development of important social and emotional skills. The Responsive Classroom approach uses structured activities to incorporate play at various levels throughout the school day:
    • Elementary school teachers use Morning Meeting activities and energizers to teach turn-taking, cooperation, sportsmanship, and empathy during short playful breaks throughout the day.
    • Middle school teachers use Responsive Advisory Meetings, brain breaks, and engaged learning structures to practice communication skills, self-control, and teamwork.
    • Educators at every level anchor learning with interactive learning activities that prepare students for less structured time—such as lunch, recess, and free time—by giving them an opportunity to practice their social and emotional skills in a structured setting.
  2. Connect play with academic learning
    Play can also be used to deepen academic learning. Teachers using the Responsive Classroom approach incorporate engaging academic practices that increase social learning and choice. They utilize interactive learning structures to allow for movement and conversation and craft academic schedules that include breaks for both structured and unstructured play. In addition, schools build repertoires of playful learning activities that become part of the school’s culture. Play is woven through the school day and throughout the school community.
  3. Create systems to ensure play is valued and successful
    When schools dedicate time to play and learning, they create systems to ensure success. Educators use Interactive Modeling to teach activities, energizers, and brain breaks and give students time to practice in order to ensure safety and joy for all students. Classrooms are designed with open areas and less furniture, so students have space to play and interact during the day. School grounds provide various locations for play and social connection. Policies and schedules are designed to communicate clear expectations for play, including a guarantee that play is for everyone, not a privilege students can potentially lose.

Schools that incorporate play into the school day create and ensure safe, joyful, and engaging learning environments for every child. Learning and play are intertwined throughout the day to immerse students in social, emotional, and academic learning. When educators increase time for play, their students reap the benefits of academic gains, increased focus, lower stress, and improved classroom behavior. Teachers also benefit from increased play: a less stressful classroom environment lowers the chances of getting burned out and provides more opportunities to feel reinvigorated by the joy of teaching. With all of these benefits in mind, the question shouldn’t be whether or not we can find time for play in a school day. Instead, we should be asking ourselves: how can we make play a foundational part of every student’s school experience?