How ‘Play’ Can Drive Learning Through a Comprehensive School Health Lens


Play is a critical part of education, even though many people may find that hard to believe.

For most, play is seen as separate from learning. It is seen as a something that “should” happen in schools, but doesn’t necessarily need to happen.

But today we are going to think differently about play. Instead of putting ‘play’ in a silo in our education system, why not think of is as an integral part of our education system.

But Why?

Well we now know that active students are healthy learners.

We know that healthy learners produce greater academic results and we know that greater academic results eventually means a stronger economy.



Knowing this is true, why then is play often forced to the side of many educational institutions and seen as ‘non learning time’? Labelling play as “non learning” is like labelling a parked car, “non drive-able”. Simply put, just because the car isn’t doing what it is designed to do, doesn’t mean it is less effective. Just as students are playing yet perceived as ‘not learning’, doesn’t mean that they really aren’t learning.

There is a unique convergence outlined in the US Play Coalition’s Play Facilitator Training which talks about the crossing over between play and learning. This ‘sweet spot’ does exist and it needs to be exploited in education, rather than be dismissed in education.

As you can see, I am very passionate about play and its space within education. So much so, that I embedded ‘play’ at the center of my teaching in Physical Education this past year. I did this through a Comprehensive School Health (CSH) approach to learning.

But How?

I did this by looking at the role of ‘play’ within all four areas of the CSH framework (listed in the model above). For example, when planning my lessons at my school, I would start by thinking about how ‘play’ and playful activities in the lesson can affect each area of student and school wellness. Here are some examples of what I mean:

Teaching & Learning

How can ‘play’ in my PE classes help support learning? In one activity I did with my grade 3’s, I specifically designed a pattern of movement for them to do in a relay. After we ‘played’ the game, I asked my Ss what they noticed and hands went up everywhere. They noticed that they were moving in various patterns, which they recognized from their math class! Turns out, they were working on patterns in math and through ‘play’ they were able to make learning connections within the context of PE and beyond into other subject areas. Amazing!

Partnerships & Services

With my PE 11 group, I was able to give them a once in a lifetime learning opportunity to go to the only liberal arts University in Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) to listen to various coaches and former athletes talk about the importance of being physically active as they continue their education. Each speaker identified ‘play’ as being an integral part of the ‘why’ behind their career paths as athletes and coaches and the left my students inspired to think creatively about their recreational time and to value play as a part of their healthy development. Another incredible experience of using examples of play to support learning.

Healthy School Policy

This one was tough to do and an area I need to focus more on as an educator. However, this past year when my middle school boys were training for their football matches, I would use practice and game play opportunities to talk about what they are consuming and why they should be consuming water before and after playing. These conversations, along with many others, have now nudged my school to create their first ever healthy eating policy! Conversations pre and post play trickled to conversations at home which led to conversations with the school, which led to positive changes in policy and school culture. All as a result of ‘play’. Yes, ‘play’ can drive change in education!

Social & Physical Environment

While using ‘play’ at the foundation of each lesson, I spent a ton of time trying to create a culture that was welcoming and safe for my students. In a gender segregated learning environment, it was important for me to make all students feel welcomed and free to ask questions, think outside the box and create playful activities they never had the chance to do before this course. Knowing that active students are better learners and knowing that students don’t care what you know until they know that you care, I decided to survey my students at the end of the term. Here is some of the feedback they gave to me:

Image courtesy of the author


It is clear that placing ‘play’ within the context of the CSH framework, great learning and extensions to learning can happen. Instead of looking at ‘play’ as non learning time, why not use it to drive all components of CSH which impact student learning, student health and lesson planning? Instead of ‘play’ being in a silo, why not unleash it and let it drive everything you do in education?


I wish for you to ‘go deep’ in your own life. For additional strategies on how to become more confident, organized, productive and successful in your life and vocation, I encourage you to pick up my latest book on Amazon: Thought Leadership.

This post was previously published on Medium.


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