When the rain stops, the skies clear, and the rainbow of colours appear on your school yard amid the cheers of joy and encouragement, Sports Day seems like the pinnacle of every child’s school year. But can we or should we make every day like Sports Day? I don’t mean the outrageous costumes and Disney dance tunes blaring in the background. I mean embracing the spirit of play in our daily lives, both as students and as staff.
I’ve been thinking a lot about play lately, perhaps as summer draws closer, but also due to some conversations, readings, and observations in the week leading up to and including our school’s Sports Day. In a conversation with a parent and fellow educator, Ben Tamblyn, regarding sustainability education, Ben shared this quote: “If war is the least sustainable thing on our planet, play is the direct opposite. Play is the most sustainable thing on our planet.”
Ben was referring to unstructured play, as do many proponents of play-based learning: learning that comes from free exploration of one’s choosing. So I’m extending Ben’s ideas, and those of others, to include play in a structured, more traditional school realm as the ability to be:
Sports Day is about play in a structured environment. All students throughout our school, including our upper intermediate leaders, exhibited a bubbling excitement that reached a crescendo on the big day – an excitement that is not necessarily found during unstructured recess time. And on Sports Day, students and staff showed up with enthusiasm and commitment – they were fully Present and committed to doing their part to ensure the success of their teammates and colleagues. The ability to Laugh with others and at oneself is so evident on Sports Day: crawling under chairs, carrying a soggy sponge over skipping ropes, or dressing up in silly costumes and singing “Under the Sea” reminds us to not take ourselves too seriously and to enjoy the relationships we have been given the privilege to be a part of. Students and teachers Accept their roles and embrace the responsibilities that come their way: the yellow team members learn their cheer, the Grade 6 and 7 leaders exhibit a confidence and clarity necessary to guide younger students, and teachers work together to do whatever is needed to make the day a success from moving tables to losing with grace during the tug of war competition. And every student Yearns for Sports Day – they aspire to have the feeling of community, teamwork, and celebration that exists throughout the day. Most of my friends can remember the exact activities and feelings associated with their own Sports Days three decades later; a testimony to the power of PLAY in our past and perhaps a reflection on the loss of PLAY in our daily lives.
Being playful and engaging in play with others often leads to increased engagement and increased happiness. In a recent Forbes article, The Science Of Happiness And The Creative Brain, increased gratitude and happiness at work leads to increased creativity and innovation. When we are happier in our schools and workplaces, reducing our negativity bias and decreasing the power of the amygdala, we give our brains the space to think, to make a greater number of neural connections, and to be more creative and innovative.
On my own leadership journey, I recognize when I am frustrated or feeling overwhelmed, I am forgetting to play – forgetting to take time to connect with my colleagues, to build and strengthen our relationships and trust through the sharing of stories and celebrations, to laugh and enjoy the uncertainties that life and work can bring, and to accept and embrace my role in helping others and in receiving help from those around me to create more engaging and innovative learning experiences for our students.
So this is my reminder to everyone to PLAY more often. Not just in June, but every day in the myriad of roles we have as students, colleagues, teachers, administrators, friends, and parents:
- Be fully Present, whatever the task
- Don’t take life too seriously; find joy and Laugh whenever you can
- Lose yourself in the moment to experience the joy, but also lose your self – Accept that you are part of something bigger and there is incredible joy to be found in recognizing your purpose is to connect with others; and
- Yearn for the feeling to continue –aspire to keep these connections, to be fully present, to experience joy with and from others, and to extend this happiness and increased creativity to all aspects of your life.