Written by Alison Earnhart

As students leave my classroom to go to lunch, I look up to see a new crowd of students walking in. It’s Monday afternoon, and that means it’s time for my Dungeons & Dragons club to meet. Over the course of the next 50 minutes, bites of sandwiches and slurps of juice mingle with dice rolling, bursts of laughter, and vivid declarations of glorious battles and magical hijinks. Advising clubs like this is a passion of mine, because over the years I’ve seen the benefits of making time and space available for students to gather and just play in school.

At a Consortium school like mine, high-level academics and heavy course loads make for a very stressful school day for the average student. Amid the constant barrage of homework, projects, and studying for exams, students struggle to balance their workload with after school sports, jobs, and life at home. All too often, school work cuts into our students’ sleep and personal time.

With all this in mind, I once asked myself why on Earth these students would spend their precious lunch hour pouring through rulebooks and declaring battle strategies when they could be catching up on homework (or sleep!). I’ve come to realize that this “play” time is not just important, but absolutely vital to my students’ health and well-being. These students want to play. They NEED to play. And if the opportunity to relax with friends and get creative without deadlines or requirements isn’t presented to them, what kind of message are we sending?

That’s why I feel it’s so important as an educator for me to create a dedicated time and place for students to have fun throughout the day. My school offers all manner of odd clubs and activities during our lunch hour to allow our students to blow off steam and get goofy. There’s an EDM club where students meet to share and collaborate on electronic music that they create, and an affiliated DJ club where students teach each other how to mix and scratch live musical performances. There’s a Pixar club that meets on Fridays, and over the course of the school year they watch every Pixar movie in chronological order (according to the Pixar universe). Aside from Dungeons and Dragons, I advise a Zombie Apocalypse Survival Team (Z.A.S.T. for short) that meets on Fridays. We play zombie-themed games, watch videos, and discuss legitimate urban survival strategies for how to cope with real-life disasters.

None of this stuff is academically relevant, but that’s the point. As educators, sometimes we place such a high priority on academics that we forget that our students (and ourselves!) need play time too. Facilitating that time within the school environment helps students to cope with all the demands of life at a busy Consortium school and sends a clear message to our students that “all work and no play” is no way to live your life.

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