*Author is Pat Rumbaugh, The Play Lady

Schools all over America have clubs, especially in middle and high school, so why not consider having a play club in every school in America including elementary schools?

What is a play club? My idea of a play club would be inclusive to every person that spends their days at the school: students, staff and all employees. Start small and dream big with your play club at school.

The obvious part is that for every get together the club has, there would be fun free playtime offered. If the weather were acceptable to go outside that would be the first choice of play. The sky is the limit here; freeze tag is a popular game at all ages; have a bin filled with balls, jump ropes, hula-hoops, Frisbees, jacks, yo-yos and any other items students would enjoy playing.

Now if the weather is not suitable for being outside have a gym or room reserved for indoor play. This is a great time to bring out the board games, cards and other games you can easily play inside. Maybe your school already has a game room: billiards, table tennis, darts, air hockey, foosball and how about pinball machines. This would be an awesome space to play these activities.

Who runs the play club? Ideally, students run the play club with an adult as the advisor, sponsor or chaperone. Parents, teachers and administrators can all play a positive role in the life of the school. Students can do it all with supervision: form a play club, run it on their own and with adults hanging around just in case they are needed to play a game or assist in anyway.

When should  the play club meet? I recommend starting out once a week if possible, say a Friday after school or at lunchtime.

How do young students run play club? There should be an understanding from day one that students have the right to play. In fact, Article 31 of the UN Convention on Rights of the Child states children have the right to play.

Children normally play at recess during the school day. Even here, the key is to allow students ownership of their play time. Explain early on that they have the right to play, but at the same time need to treat each other how they would want to be treated and that they share the play space and equipment and are responsible to help take care of it.

Where do funds come from for the play club? This could be a mixture of students raising money, the PTA chipping in funds and the school allocating funds for play equipment.

Lets move on to the middle and high school students who need playtime just as much as the younger ones. Some of them may be involved in after school sports and they get more than enough physical exercise, but do they get the opportunity during the day to just have fun, free, unstructured play? ALL students need to play, be physically active and have free time to choose what they would enjoy playing.

Students could be encouraged to take playful walks around a walking path at school or the school track. If weather does not cooperate, walking the halls is always an option.

So many activities without much cost can be added at every school; hopscotch and foursquare can be painted on the blacktop at school. It doesn’t take much space to add badminton, bocce ball, corn-hole, croquet, shuffleboard, horseshoes, or other active games.

Be creative and take a good look at your school campus: are there trees students would be allowed to climb? Is there a space that would be great for hide-and-seek? How about a playground for students in all grades? Yes, I believe ALL students can benefit from playing at a playground.

You may not have a playground at your school, but the play club when it expands could meet on the weekend at a certain hour to play. Parents that cannot volunteer during the week might be available once a month for an hour, so other parents could drop off their child to play.

The other activity of the play club, besides playing, that I feel is important is promoting play in the community. Lets say you are an elementary school; you have started a play club, how about planning an outing to a nursing home where you would play board games and cards with seniors? Another option would be to plan a play day at your school for people in the community. Just imagine on a Saturday afternoon going to the school and playing jump rope, Simon says, Red light, Green light, and other activities with people of all ages. Check out the post about planning a play day.

Older students could go play with younger students. Teens could offer to play soccer, play catch or Frisbee at a playground or park in town as a way to promote play in your community.

Tips for starting a play club in your school

  • Students interested in starting a play club should first talk to their friends and classmates. Make a draft of what you want and have it typed up. Have everyone sign it and ask to meet with the Principal.
  • Speak to the PTA, your parents and teachers about starting a play club.
  • Look at your facilities at your school and figure out the places where would be ideal to play outside and inside.
  • Start gathering play equipment, games, etc. Ask parents if you can donate some of your equipment, ask neighbors for used equipment.
  • Does your family belong to a community list serve? If they do ask if you can send a message through the list serve asking for donations, some people will give you money and/or buy you new equipment.
  • Make a wish list, so people know what you want.
  • Remember to include the entire school. Everyone deserves to play.

Tips for promoting the play club

  • Once you have the play club up and running beginning thinking about a way to promote play in your community.
  • Would a play event at your school be possible?
  • Are there homes for seniors in your community? If there is I suggest you contact them and ask if you can come play with the seniors. They may already have a Games Night.
  • Be creative about promoting play. Take a good look at the facilities in your community and think of ways you can get people to join you to play. We have held a couple of Indoor Splash & Play Pool Parties. They were a big hit.

Children have the right to play. If your child or the children in your community do not have the opportunity to go out and play like you did when you were a child then forming a play club is a must. If the children in your community are over scheduled, stressed by attending an adult led activity daily then they need fun free unstructured play. You can help give this to them by helping form a play club at your neighborhood school.

I believe play clubs are the answer to so many problems that are going on in America today. Some children hardly get any physical activity during the day. Some children are so busy they are stressed to the max and some children do not have a safe place to play.

If you are a parent, teacher, administrator, or an adult who loved to play as a child who notices that play is missing in your community I urge you to act now. Feel free to contact me. I would be glad to help. I would even be willing to come to your community or do whatever it takes to give children the opportunity to play.

Let’s put playing on the priority list in your community. As I said before, every child deserves to play.

OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES

1 The Play Lady Tells Us How to Become Play-ers

2 How to Start a Play Committee in Your Community

3 How to Plan a Play Day in Your Community

4 Pushing Play in the Community

5 Why Close a Street to Play?

6 Join an Already Planned Community Event and Promote Play

7 Inter-generational Games Night

8 Community Service: Teens Make Great Play Advocates

9 Start a Play Club in Your School

10 The Benefits of Play Events in Your Community

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Watch one of the two TEDxTalks Pat gave on play.

Pat is the Co-founder of the nonprofit Let’s Play America.  Like us on Facebook Let’s Play America.

Invite The Play Lady to your community.

OTHER PLAY POSTS

1 Happiness and Growth through Play

2 Playing with Heart

3 Children May Be Playing, but Their Brains Are Working

4 Is Pretend Play Good for Kids?

5 Playing at School: More Important Than We Thought?

6 Does Too Much Screen Time Make Kids Sick?

7 Infant Couch Potatoes

8 What's Better: Indoor or Outdoor Play?

9 Why Play With a Child?

Should Toddlers Be Medicated for ADHD?

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