NORTH FORK, NY — Two North Fork elementary schools have launched afternoon "play clubs" to promote student wellness.
According to David Gamberg, superintendent of both the Greenport and Southold school districts, "an understanding of the importance of play in human development goes back as far as the late 1700s, when French Philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau stated, 'You will never accomplish your design of forming sensible adults unless you begin by making playful children.'"
To that end, he said, both Southold and Greenport Schools have joined with dozens of other elementary schools around the United States to promote play through the Let Grow Play Club. According to its website, the Let Grow Play Club is "a program that gives kids the chance to organize their own games and fun, developing social skills."
The play club meets one hour after school each week, and by design, children are free to play any way they like, unlike the typically structured activities in which many children participate.
The piece quotes a letter that explains how free play is at least as valuable as other after-school classes. Think of it as a stealth extracurricular. The letter was sent to parents by the principals of the two schools, Ellen O'Neill and Joe Tsaveras, of Southold and Greenport Elementary Schools. It said, in part:
"The kind of play they're talking about isn't an adult-led activity, like Little League or chess club. It is old-fashioned, unstructured and kid-run. But even when it looks like just plain fun — which it is — children at play are learning '21st century skills such as collaboration, problem solving and creativity.' Organize a kickball game? That involves 'learning to cooperate and negotiate,' according to the doctors. Rough and tumble play? That aids 'the development of empathy' as kids figure out how not to go too far. Imaginative play enhances creativity. And playing almost any game teaches kids another key lesson: How to lose. Because they will. All those social-emotional skills are key to a happy, successful life."
One "big shock", the letter continues, is that play even makes kids academically smarter.
That's probably not a shock to readers of this blog. But spread the word: Play isn't the opposite of learning. It is learning. Adding it to the school day enhances kids' lives. And if you have a Let Grow Play Club at your school, please tell us how its going!