Protect childhood: demand a right to play

Back to school was always my favorite time of the year.  I loved going to school so much that I became a teacher, teacher educator, and professional student with two advanced degrees! When I was younger, back to school shopping was my favorite activity and I was so excited I could barely sleep the night before the first day of school. Although I have fond memories of my time in school, I fear that today’s young children do not have the same sense of joy when it is time to go back to school. For too many young people, instead of school being the place where the joy of exploration and inquiry occurs, now it has become a place for direct instruction and rote memorization.  Researchers and kindergarten teachers have reported the decline in play and choice time as a result of an increase in teacher-led academic activities.  The push to have children “college and career” ready means kindergarten can no longer be a place where children engage in free play, but instead they must learn how to read.

Research has proven the benefits of play
, but the powers that be refuse to listen. Additionally, the decline in play and rise in challenging behaviors and mental disorders have been studied, but we still have so-called experts claiming play is not important. Early childhood teachers are criticized for allowing young children to play and parents are led to believe that play is not valuable for the development of happy, healthy children.  Those of us who recognize the value of play are the last line of defense when it comes to ensuring all children have the right to play.  We must be advocates for all children, we must protect childhood, and we must demand a right to play. Below are some back to school suggestions for defending play and protecting childhood.

  1. Ask the teacher, principal, or director how play is utilized in the school curriculum. If they say there is no time for play, ask if they have read the research on the benefits of play and if not share this with them.
  2. Request that all students receive a minimum of 30-minutes for recess. If they say there is no time for recess, share this article with them.
  3. Request that all students receive 10-15-minutes of physical activity breaks for every 40-45 minutes of instruction.
  4. Allow your child to play before and after school.
  5. Ask your child’s teachers if they conduct authentic assessments during unstructured play. If not, share this research and this resource.
  6. Encourage your child’s teacher to address the need for more play at back-to-school night.
  7. Talk with other parents about the need for more play.
  8. Create an In Defense of Play committee at your school and center. Ask parents and teachers to join this group and distribute resources about the need for play.
  9. Host a public play-in. Allow children to play while adults watch and observe the benefits of play.
  10. Contact your local and state representatives and inform them about the need to play and the benefits of play. Ask them to attend your play-in and send them research on play. Ask them to sign on to a statement of support for the right to play.

Do you have other ideas on how we can protect childhood and demand a right to play? Please share them in the comments.

Comments 0

  1. Wonderful and excellent article, Denisha! and thank you for including action steps and links for parents. I wonder if you’d allow us to republish your article, with permission and links to this site, in our online Parenting Article of the Month. Habitot’s mission as all about promoting young children’s learning through play, and helping parents and caregivers appreciate the role of play and how to support it. http://www.habitot.org. Thank you for considering!

    1. Hi Gina. Thank you for your feedback. Yes you can republish this article on your website. Please include the following sentence: This article was originally published on August 16, 2018 at (and then include a link to the original). Thanks again.

  2. Talk to school principals and teachers about recess policy. Many teachers are still withholding recess from children as punishment (if they don’t finish their work or if they “misbehave”) a recess break is a child right (not a privilege). Insist on a wellness policy that includes the child’s right to recess!

    1. Great point Carol. I spend a lot of time with my pre-service teachers explaining why with holding recess is not a good idea. Love the idea of a child wellness policy that includes the right to recess and free play!

  3. Without getting the chance to play in school I don’t think students would be able to maximize their lives being students! By just wearing a costume or giving these children a break from their school activities is enough to keep them connected. When I was still a student, my excitement couldn’t be contained if I know that there will be an event tomorrow at my school! It feels different when you get the chance to do all things you want especially when you were young. The school should be kind and generous enough to give it to them!

  4. Terrific collection of insights and resources. Thank you, Denisha Jones.
    Might be worth linking to the new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics:
    Ginsburg KR; American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Communications; American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health. The importance of play in promoting healthy child development and maintaining strong parent-child bonds. Pediatrics. 2007;119(1):182–191pmid:17200287
    Link here: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2018/08/16/peds.2018-2058