Playtime is a Back-to-School Essential
In Let the Children Play, the authors, both fathers of school-age children, tell how switching countries – William Doyle took his American family to Finland while Pasi Sahlberg moved his Finnish family to the U.S. – shocked them into writing this book.
With research from around the world, the authors reveal how intellectual and physical play is the ultimate engine of transforming education – the key to giving our children the well-being, happiness and skills they need to thrive in the 21st century.
As authors of the new book, “Let the Children Play,” William Doyle, Fulbright Scholar and former advisor to Finland’s Ministry of Education and Pasi Sahlberg, professor of education policy at the University of New South Wales, in Sydney, Australia provide research supporting the power of play in schools. The Genius of Play caught up with the authors to hear their thoughts on why play is essential for ALL children. Read what they had to say…
What motivated you to write a book about play?
WD and PS: We are two dads with young children, and we both want “the best” for our kids, and for all kids.
In the U.S. and increasingly in many other countries, some schools have lost their way, by eliminating play and replacing it with high-stakes, compulsory standardized tests and test prep. This is causing destructive effects on education – by increasing pressure and toxic stress on children, “play” and “creative play” is being squeezed out by the elimination of recess, breaks, the arts, and time for self-directed “passion projects.”
We wrote this book for parents around the world to help them to think more broadly about what really is ‘best possible education’ for their own children. We argue that many, or perhaps most of, the skills that children need to live happy and good lives are best learned through play. We are not saying that school should be all about play. Rather, as we saw in our research, play can be a powerful facilitator of learning.
In your book, you cite many different studies. What are the most powerful facts you have come across in your research that speak to the benefits of play for kids?
WD and PS: If you want children to learn more, let them play more. If you want children to behave better in class, give them 60 minutes of recess breaks through the day. If you want children to get higher test scores let them play. If you want to prepare children for lifelong success – let them play. Children can learn many of important future skills, like social skills, communication, problem solving, empathy, negotiation, managing ambiguity and failure and divergent thinking, through playful activities.
This is why so many research-based professional organizations have taken a strong position in favor of childhood play, recess and increased physical activity in schools, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control, the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Academy of Sciences.
You have extensive experience of living and working in various countries around the world. Can you tell us a little bit about the similarities and differences in how kids play here vs. abroad?
WD and PS: In the U.S., parents increasingly prefer heavily structured and programmed indoor activities for their children instead of free, unstructured play outdoors. Many parents believe that when their children play, they should learn something out of it rather than just enjoy the time and have fun.
However, in Nordic countries, for example, play is seen as an important part of every child’s life – kids are encouraged to play as much as they can. Play is an integral part of growing up to be a healthy and happy individual, and many of the world’s leading education systems, such as Finland, Canada, and Scotland, stress play as a basic right of children and give them sufficient time in and out of school to play. Right now, around the world, play-based school experiments are achieving inspiring results for children’s learning.
What do you see as the biggest challenges in getting more play into schools and society in general?
WD and PS: The biggest problem may simply be institutional stasis and inertia in our schools, and a political and bureaucratic reluctance to try something new. We see that high-stakes testing shifts schooling towards the narrow memorization of facts and routine skills that is often happening on the expense of free time to play in school and also after school hours. Play, in fact, is a big part of the solution to improving our schools and helping children thrive.
Most people would agree that for very young children, play is essential. What about kids in middle school and high school who need to acquire specific knowledge and skills? Does play have a role with them?
WD and PS: George Bernard Shaw one said that “We don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing.” We all, including adults, benefit from playing.
We are absolutely convinced that learning through play can benefit all children and adults too. It just takes a bit more courage from schools and teachers to reimagine what they do so that play would be a visible part of teaching and learning.
We started The Genius of Play initiative four and a half years ago with the mission to raise awareness about the benefits of play among parents, caregivers, and general public. Do you believe the conversation about play has been evolving since then? If so, how? Where do you see the play movement going?
WD and PS: Play is poised for a global renaissance that cuts across ideologies, countries, and cultures. The day may not be too far off when more and more of the world’s children enjoy schools based on love, risk, joy, reflection, experimentation, physical activity, and play.