A Million Hands At Play (Circling Up Worldwide for #GSPD2019)

Photo courtesy of Selvija Hadzic from Rožaje, Montenegro.

“The children are 13-14 years old. We had a great day. We were all having fun. I was so surprised what playing games means to them.” A single classroom among thousands – across 72 nations – for the 5th annual Global School Play Day.

Good ideas often take time to blossom into widespread awareness and understanding – along with the changes in behaviors those ideas can inspire and engender. The idea of schools handing over precious instructional minutes to unstructured play can seem like a subversive idea. But the science behind the biological imperative of free play is unequivocal. Take a peek at the study from the American Academy of Pediatrics from September of 2018 entitled (appropriately) “The Power of Play: A Pediatric Role in Enhancing Development in Young Children.”

Global School Play Day started as an idea amongst a small group of educators in the winter of 2014, inspired by the TED talk given by psychologist Dr. Peter Gray. A quick patchwork of social media announced the inaugural GSPD on February 4, 2015 – our goal: 1,000 students. But by day’s end over 65,000 students on six continents participated…What is going on here? This idea was just scratching the surface of an emerging awareness of what children need to be happy – to feel vibrance – to weave connections based on compassion, empathy and constructive argument with fellow humans…unstructured play.

2.6.2019 dawned and #GSPD2019 was trending on Twitter before 5:00 am PST – and was firmly entrenched in the top slot through 3:00 pm.

It was incredible – and overwhelming – to scroll through the images and stories that teachers and administrators shared from around the world. We even saw alternative hashtags (like #GlobalSchoolPlayDay2019 below) catch fire. More proof of the grassroots nature of this movement; it is not a program to implement; it is not a “break” from learning or reward for good behavior. At its heart GSPD is about embracing what it means to be human, and creating the time, space and permission for children (and adults) to act, behave and learn the way we are born to act, behave and learn – through play.

Here is the shallowest surface skim of the ocean of tweets that poured forth – visit #GSPD2019 to see them all!


A tip of the hat to Sir Ken!

We are indebted to Jennifer Gonzalez, creator of the inimitable Cult of Pedagogy, for her thoughtful work to share the message about the power of play. The same gratitude goes to the wonderful Mindshift team; Ki Sung spent two days at Hall Middle School to see GSPD in action, and her podcast will come out in August of 2019.

The world looks to Finland for edu-inspiration; Finland looks to PLAY for inspiration!


Puerto Rico!



New Zealand!!

High school students are still KIDS! Amazing to see teachers of future Ivy Leaguers understand how important it is to reconnect with our human hardwiring.

Side note to district leaders and site admin: make your next PD day an outdoor adventure. Somehow we still have this idea that play is unproductive and meant for children only. Brené Brown said it quite well: “It takes courage to say yes to rest and play in a culture where exhaustion is seen as a status symbol.”

535,690 children took part in 2019 – over a million hands at play. But the world has many hundreds of millions of children more, and every one of them deserves the same opportunity to experience unstructured play. Perhaps some might think that play is the domain of the household and community – but what if a child lives in a community beleaguered by violence? School is the sanctuary; schools might be the one place a child has to be a child. Play is a transformative force that impels us to dispel toxic ideologies (and institutions) that see it as frivolous.

Good ideas often take time to spread; in four years we have gone from 65,000 to well over 500,000 children. We invite you to sign up for #GSPD2020 today and amplify this wave of well-being to the millions that need and cherish it.

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