At Sea Crest School on the afternoon of Feb. 5, not a soul was holding a pencil to paper or staring at a screen.
Outside, kids were playing basketball on the blacktop and blowing bubbles that filled the courtyard. A game of volleyball was starting in the gym, and, in the theater, students played dress-up with superhero capes, butterfly wings and princess dresses. On the school steps, a swarm of kids disassembled cardboard boxes. Second-grader Daphne Nedzel was carefully taping two ends together.
“We’re going to make a castle,” Nedzel said. “A huge castle, with a chair inside for the princess’s throne!”
It was all part of Global School Play Day, a day of unstructured play for students at school, and this year was Sea Crest’s first time participating. Teachers and administrators set aside the entire afternoon to allow students to choose activities and have a good time.
“There is so much richness to choice play,” said Michelle Giacotto, Sea Crest’s director of lower school.
Admission and Community Engagement Associate Stephanie Hanepen walked from room to busy room. She poked her head into a classroom containing a raging game of Pictionary and caught it ending, as neither team was able to guess the answer: chocolate cake.
Giacotto said the day is part of an effort to raise awareness about the importance of play in learning. The previous Friday, students watched Boston College psychology research professor Peter Gray present a TED Talk on the topic, linking the decline of play in kids’ lives to a decline in creativity and empathy. Gray’s thesis is supported by a recent body of research including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s focus on recess as critical to the health and safety of kids, and a Harvard Graduate School of Education study that found that kids and adults are more relaxed and engaged during play, which facilitates learning.
Then, Sea Crest students got to choose two types of play — among choices like “Bubbles and Bobbles,” “The Art of Building” and “Field Day” — to participate in the following week. Giacotto said
middle-schoolers also got the choice to facilitate games and lead activities with the lower school students, and said she loves watching older students
rediscover play with toys like Legos.
One major component of the day is that it was free of devices and screens. Giacotto asked students if they could try to keep that up all evening and trade in the TV or computer for a board or card game.
Inside, second-grader Grayson Riesen and his friend Aidan Keates were playing Guess Who? The final match of a Connect Four tournament was wrapping up upstairs, while students downstairs tackled chess games, puzzles and logic challenges involving metal pieces that somehow slip together.
At the corner of a large science table, Trevor O’Donnell sat playing with Legos. He was building what looked like a car, or maybe a spaceship. He said he didn’t know what it would turn out to be, but that he liked getting to choose how to play all afternoon.
“I like playing with Legos because I know I want to be a builder when I grow up,” O’Donnell said. “Someday, I want to build my sister a house.”