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A Better Way to Fight Bullying (That Doesn’t Even Focus On Bullying)

Fourth grade teacher Kevin Stinehart, the 2020 teacher of the year in his South Carolina District, stumbled onto a surprising new way to fight bullying.

As he explains in eSchoolNews:

“A few years ago I had a student who walked around with a chip on his shoulder. He never smiled, never laughed, and always seemed angry. He was cruel to other kids, had frequent behavior issues in class, and in the course of one week had three office referrals from three different teachers for his extreme behaviors. Other kids would label him a bully, but where they saw a bully, we as teachers saw a hurting and lonely child in need of friends. He was the kind of student who was always disciplined by losing recess time, so I eventually added it up and realized he was getting only about 30 minutes of playtime in an entire week on average.

“Realizing his lack of play and knowing play’s immense benefits, I arranged a conference with his parent and asked if I could have him join my Play Club – a one-hour afterschool club dedicated to unstructured free play. His parent agreed to let him join, and before I knew it, his first day at Play Club had arrived.

“I was a little nervous that his behavior issues would continue, and he would wreak havoc on my other Play Club students, but I knew play could help him, so I was committed to the process. For the first half hour of Play Club he just walked around by himself. Eventually a student kicked a ball to him and he kicked it back. After a few more kicks, he eventually started running around and playing with the other kids. By the end of that first day of Play Club he was smiling, laughing, and playing in a healthy way—and with other kids! It was shocking to see the transformation in him after just one hour of complete unstructured free play. The teacher supervising Play Club with me had tears in her eyes at the dramatic change she was witnessing.

BUT WAIT — there’s more! Not only did that kid NOT get sent to the principal’s office for the rest of the year — he did not get sent for the rest of his time at that school!

What is it about free play that makes kids less aggressive?

Your guess is as good as mine:

A chance to make friends

No one making them do something they’re bad at (reading, math, answering questions out loud in class)

An easy way to learn social skills

An opportunity to move and yell

A chance for other kids to see them as something new — a good ball player, or a funny kid

______________fill in the blank!

Stinehart writes that a Let Grow Play Club didn’t just change that one boy. It made the kids into better problem solvers, it made them into more social and empathic creatures. It infused the climate of the school.

Your school can start Play Club, too. Our implementation guide is free — click here to get it. And please let us know what happens when you give a nice swath of time for plain old playing back to the kids. We all want to hear! Email [email protected] . Thanks! — L.

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