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A day just to play, without structure or screens

Global School Play Day gives students free rein to have creative fun

Godfrey-Lee — In the Godfrey Elementary Little Legends makerspace, a group of first-grade girls made friendship bracelets for each other. 

Mayeleen Garcia explained, “We just use our fingers and the rubber bands,” as she used her hand like a loom to weave the small bands together.

“I’m making one for my friend,” she added.

The receiver of the small, brightly colored bracelet, Daniella Chub Matildez, smiled and said the group of girls were “all friends with each other.” 

In other areas of the makerspace, students were building with LEGOs, coloring and playing with toy trucks. 

Play was the theme of the day on Feb. 1, when Godfrey-Lee’s youngest learners took a break from regular lessons to participate as a school in the Global School Play Day, an effort to bring awareness to the importance of unstructured play for students in schools around the world. 

‘It’s important to have unstructured time for kids to play, explore, create and cultivate new learning with each other.’

— music teacher Tami Nelson 

Since 2015, over 1.5 million students from around the world have participated in this carefree, screen-free day, according to their website. 

First-graders Cayden Dedrick, left, and Ostin Solis Santizo show off the boat they built out of Legos

Supervising the makerspace, music teacher Tami Nelson told a student who asked for directions, “I’m not going to tell you what to do. You get to decide.” 

“It’s important to have unstructured time for kids to play, explore, create and cultivate new learning with each other,” Nelson said. “We stopped using the makerspace after its first year, so this is the first time it’s been back open and they’re so excited.

Kindergarten teacher Char Walsh worked with her fellow teachers, including Nelson, to imagine what a school-wide day of play could look like post-pandemic. 

In previous years, the Early Childhood Center celebrated the day to step back from curriculum and make time for fun. 

Walsh’s students began their day with a visit from their high school mentors and a game of Lotería, Mexican bingo. In the afternoon, each K-2 class got to rotate to another teacher’s classroom for different games and activities.  

Downstairs, second-graders hula-hooped and kicked a beach ball down an imaginary soccer pitch. 

One student skipped down the hall and yelled, “I wish we could play like this every day!”

Explore more unique video stories of students learning, interesting school programs and educators working to help all children succeed.

Godfrey-Lee ECC students play freely in the gym with no teacher instruction
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Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark is a reporter covering Byron Center, Caledonia, Godfrey-Lee, Kenowa Hills and Thornapple Kellogg. She grew up in metro Detroit and her journalism journey brought her west to Grand Rapids via Michigan State University where she covered features and campus news for The State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism. Following graduation, she worked as a beat reporter for The Ann Arbor News, covering stories on education, community, prison arts and poetry, before finding her calling in education reporting and landing at SNN. Alexis is also the author of a poetry chapbook, “Learning to Sleep in the Middle of the Bed.”


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