Keeping Play Purposeful During a Pandemic

Keeping Play Purposeful During a Pandemic

The Coronavirus pandemic has had the ground shifting beneath us on a daily basis. Life isn’t as it should be. It’s often a confusing and lonely time for kids and their families. And one of the most challenging obstacles for kids (and their families) is the absence of play

We’ve often heard that play is the work of children. It is, in fact, a complex occupation that requires practice in collaboration, negotiation, empathy, communication, literary allusion, and abstract thinking.

It is in play that kids learn best to be kind to others. In play they learn to recognize another person’s pain and to identify with their feelings. And what could be more essential, in the midst of a pandemic than for kids to understand that kindness matters? That caring matters. That generosity matters. That trust matters. That empathy matters. So let’s give kids what really matters: time for play.

There are so many variations in the way this year may unfold, we could not hope to address every single situation. Instead, we aimed to look across the bigger branches of opening plans and within that, imagine how we could hold tight to the fundamental aspects of children's play.

A Note About Materials: Health and safety guidelines also differ across districts and states, and so we only offer a few general guidelines about materials usage. Some ideas that you might find helpful are:

Social distancing (is that an oxymoron?) will be required as kids return to school. But while all of us will need to maintain physical distance with each other, it’s more important than ever to provide opportunities for social and emotional connections.

Kids will best forge those connections through play. Play, fantasy and storytelling are the abstract thinking of children. Kids’ play helps them to make connections, empathize, focus on common problems and navigate their fears.

As kids use play to make sense of their world, they also engage in wider social cultures by enacting a myriad of roles and identities. Through play they access, navigate, understand, and interpret various aspects of culture within their worlds. The deepest, most profound understanding of each other and the world around them happens through play. Play provides fertile ground for the growth of cognitive, narrative, and social and emotional connectivity.

In fact, play is so essential to optimal child development that it has been recognized by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights as the right of every child.

The right of each and every child. Play.

• • •To learn more about Purposeful Play: A Teacher’s Guide to Igniting Deep and Joyful Learning Across the Dayvisit 

Click below to browse more blog posts about Purposeful Play. 

Kristine Mraz is coauthor—with Christine Hertz—of Kids First from Day One, which provides a practical blueprint for increasing the child-centeredness of your teaching practice. She and Christine previously teamed up for the bestselling A Mindset for Learning (coauthored with Christine Hertz), which provides practical and powerful strategies for cultivating optimism, flexibility, and empathy alongside traditional academic skills. Kristi has also coauthored—with Alison Porceli and Cheryl Tyler—Purposeful Play, the book that helps you make play a powerful part of your teaching. She and Marjorie Martinelli wroteSmarter Charts and Smarter Charts for Math, Science, and Social Studies ​to get the most out of this classroom staple. Their popular blog Chartchums keeps teachers in touch with ongoing and relevant classroom issues and ways to use charts as a support. Chartchums is also on Facebook and on Twitter @chartchums! Kristi is a recent transplant to southern California, where she will be writing and consulting until the classroom calls again. You can follow all of her adventures on Twitter @MrazKristine or on her blog, found at

Alison Porcelli is coauthor (with Kristi Mraz and Cheryl Tyler) of Purposeful Play. She also coauthored A Quick Guide to Boosting English Acquisition in Choice Time, with Cheryl. Alison is Vice Principal at PS 59 in Manhattan and worked for eight years as a senior staff developer at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University, where she consulted nationally and internationally to bring exceptional literacy practices to schools. Before that, she was a kindergarten teacher. Alison's playground is in Bedford, NY where she resides with her husband, Tom, and son, Preston. You can find Alison on Twitter @AlisonPorcelli.

Cheryl Tyler is coauthor of Purposeful Play with Kristi Mraz and Alison Porceli. She has worked extensively in New York City schools as a kindergarten teacher, staff developer, consultant, and the principal of PS 277 in the South Bronx. She is currently the director of Reading Rescue at Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. Cheryl and Alison are coauthors of A Quick Guide to Boosting English Acquisition in Choice Time, K-2. You can find Cheryl on Twitter @cheryltyler11. 

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