On the annual Global School Play Day, Ann Arbor Open School prioritizes student-led, screen-free play

For the eighth year, Ann Arbor Open School put academics on pause for a day of unstructured, screen-free play.

Global School Play Day is a worldwide movement that began in 2015 as a way to recognize the importance of play in children’s development.

Ann Arbor Open has enthusiastically celebrated Global School Play Day each year since Tori Jovanovski started teaching there in the 2016-17 school year. “I was excited to find my colleagues agreed about the need to prioritize student-led, screen-free play in our digital era,” said Jovanovski.

According to Jovanovski, each teacher at Ann Arbor Open determines how their class will celebrate Global School Play Day, but many teachers put academics on hold for the whole day and allow time for electronic-free, kid-led play. Lots of students bring games, toys, or craft supplies from home to use with classmates, and they form and reform groups of playmates organically as the day goes on. Some classes also meet with older or younger “buddy” classes who they might normally have reading time with to spend time together in a different way. 

“Teachers might begin or end the day by leading a discussion about why our school celebrates GSPD, having students name the skills and habits they practice when they play,” she said, “but we try to take a backseat and step in only when students need support navigating social situations that arise.”

Research supports the importance of unstructured play in giving kids space to build relationships, express themselves creatively, establish norms with peers, navigate conflict, communicate with others, solve problems, build their capacity to take risks, and work through anxiety and stress, Jovanovski said. 

“These are goals that teachers have for our students anyway, and play is a highly motivating context,” she said. “Family schedules are busy, though, and even if kids get to go to soccer practice or ballet class, they get much less time for unstructured play than kids from generations past.”

“Global School Play Day offers a way for schools like ours to build in time for play at school.”

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