Inside Stories

InsideChelmsford: Students Take Part in Play Day

Students in Stacy Frasca’s first grade class at South Row Elementary School enjoyed some board games during Global School Play Day on Wednesday, Feb. 7.

by Jennie Oemig

CHELMSFORD – Students at South Row Elementary School took time during the school day on Wednesday, Feb. 7, to join millions of others around the world in observing Global School Play Day.

According to the event website, during Global School Play Day, students are given “ample time for free play without the use of screens, structured games or adult direction. The idea is to let children explore their creativity, problem-solving skills, and social interactions in an unstructured and spontaneous environment.”

South Row kindergarten teacher Abby Patriquin said she first heard about Global School Play Day through the Littleton Public Schools system and decided to coordinate an effort to bring it to Chelmsford.

Students in Abby Patriquin’s kindergarten class at South Row Elementary School took time during the school day on Wednesday, Feb. 7, to enjoy some unstructured playtime.

“I feel like we’ve been pushing away from play and more toward structure,” she said. “Play is kind of getting this bad rep, that it’s a bad thing, when it’s actually beneficial to the brain. It connects synapses, it helps problem solving and executive functioning; it has so many benefits.”

Nowadays, Ms. Patriquin said, children are losing that social piece of how to engage in play with others.

“Kids don’t get that many opportunities anymore to play without someone intervening,” she said, explaining that sports and other after-school activities are all supervised by adults. “We have all these structured things for children to do and then we lost out on just play.”

Testing out Global School Play Day at South Row this year, Ms. Patriquin said she is hopeful other schools in the district will join in the initiative in the future.

“It’s already global. There’s already thousands of schools that do this,” she said. “So it would be neat … to get all the other elementary schools on board.”

Though it is deemed a play day, Ms. Patriquin said students don’t necessarily play the entire day.

“It can be just a couple hours, it could be a half day, whatever is best,” she said. “You can match the needs of your students. But the idea is to have unstructured playtime.”

Some South Row classrooms allowed students to bring toys from home, while others only utilized the toys and board games that were readily available in the classroom.

“The goal is no electronics, nothing that makes noises or is remote-controlled; just things that require them to talk and move and play,” Ms. Patriquin said. “I think we forget that with a board game, there’s turn-taking, there’s counting, there’s reading, there’s understanding strategy. There are so many different layers to a board game that are super important in developing skills.”

Ms. Patriquin said observing students while they’re playing is also a great way for educators to learn more about their social-emotional development.

“Children are still learning, even though it’s not in the conventional way that we think learning should take place,” she said. “Also, it’s a good way for teachers to reflect on how their children are doing in the classrooms with play. Is there someone that’s not being included? Is there someone that has a hard time settling in? Is there someone that really needs teacher support to engage? It might be eye-opening.”

Sarah Costello, a first-grade teacher at South Row, said she was impressed with how calm the children were at the start of the day, knowing they had playtime in the afternoon.

“I think it’s great,” she said. “It’s great for social interaction, social-emotionally just taking a break from everything. … And just letting kids be kids.”

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