NEW MINAS, NS - Students at Evangeline Middle School (EMS) in New Minas are playing a role in an international initiative that aims to restore unstructured play to a generation of kids.
The students of grade 7 and 8 teacher Erin Gaudet got back to the basics as part of Global School Play Day on Feb. 6. Gaudet said that, as a teacher, she does a lot research on Twitter. She saw something about Global School Play Day a couple of months ago and thought it was a very interesting idea.
As part of the initiative, students from Grade Primary to 12 engage in unstructured play that is not organized by the teacher for a day.
Gaudet said the event has grown dramatically since its inception in 2015 and she decided to hop on board with her students. Other classes at EMS were taking part on a smaller scale but not for the entire day.
“I believe we might be the only school in Nova Scotia participating,” Gaudet said. “We’re certainly the only school in Nova Scotia that is on the official list.”
She said the purpose of the day is bringing students back to organizing themselves and having some autonomy in the kind of play they engage in. This is not screen time: the students weren’t allowed to use any electronic devices.
Gaudet said there has been a lot of research into the benefits of play for younger children and she believes those benefits continue for people of all ages. One expectation of her students was that she also take part in the unstructured play.
A different school experience
Grade 8 student Ryan Young said taking part in the unstructured play day was quite different compared to an average day in class.
“It’s good to have a little play day where you can basically just play any game you want and have no requirements along with it,” he said.
Young and a group of other students were playing Black Jack, using plastic coins instead of real currency to place bets, and were having fun.
He said it was also a very different experience going through a day of school without using technology such as smart phones or tablets. Technology is usually a big part of play for Young, who loves hockey and tends to play the latest hockey-themed video games on his phone, an Xbox or PlayStation 4.
Grade 8 student Skye Okum-Mitchell was having fun “beating people at Black Jack.” She also spent some time playing the card game Apples to Apples.
Okum-Mitchell said she liked the fact that students had to set their phones and other technology aside for the day to concentrate on play.
“That way, people can actually enjoy social activities,” she said.
The students said they would recommend taking part in Global School Play Day to other classes and schools.
When the initiative began four years ago, more than 65,000 students took part. Last year, 388,493 students from 58 countries around the world participated. This year, more than 4,500 individual classes or schools were officially registered to take part.
For more information, visit www.globalschoolplayday.com.