Let the Children Play: How More Play Will Save Our Schools and Help Children Thrive ~ Pasi Sahlberg & William Doyle

Over the past summer, I became very interested in the concept of “play” and how it affects our children and students. I began doing some very basic research on the subject, reading up on the history of education and the role of play in hunter gatherer societies, when I came across this book. I was pleased to find a book that discussed play in a school context and was written by two people with extensive backgrounds in education. It was clear after reading their bios that both Pasi Sahlberg and William Doyle are dedicated to protecting our youth and improving our institutions. Here is some more insight into the premise of this book.

Synopsis: (Inside Cover)

“According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, ‘the lifelong success of children is based on their ability to be creative and to apply the lessons learned from playing.’ But play – including physical activity, the arts, and recess – is being eliminated in our society and schools, replaced by failing education policies that have not improved learning and are wasting billions of dollars. 

In Let the Children Play, the authors, both fathers of school-age children, tell how switching countries – Pasi Sahlberg brought his Finnish family to the United States, while William Doyle brought his American family to Finland – shocked them into writing this book. With research breakthroughs and case histories from Finland, China, Singapore, Scotland, New York, Texas, and around the world, the authors reveal how intellectual and physical play is the ultimate engine of transforming education – the key to giving our children the well-being, happiness, and skills they need to thrive in the 21st century, including curiosity, creativity, teamwork, problem-solving, communication, and empathy.

Written for parents, educators, and policymakers, this book reveals a striking vision of an inspiring future of our children’s education – and how to make it happen.”


The first thing I must compliment about this book is its extensive use of research, studies, observations, cultural comparisons, personal experiences and anecdotes, and interviews from a wide audience. This helped establish a firm credibility in their thesis and support the notions they discussed. I think, though, if we were to ask any parent or teacher, they would say that play is important – but only to an extent. Being able to understand why play is so important takes our advocacy of the topic to a whole new level. We can begin to pull back the curtains and reveal the benefits that play, especially outdoor play without adult intervention, can bring to the child and the classroom. 

Although I didn’t necessarily agree with all the points they made, there were several that have stuck with me since I finished the last page.

The first thing they talked about and something that I have seen in the news and in my personal experiences, is the “deprofessionalization” of teachers. The teaching profession used to be highly revered in society but is viewed more and more as a shameful career to pursue, or something easy to do while you wait for something else to come along.

But these thoughts are damaging! Being a teacher is difficult and directly impacts the people we are working with. If we continue to shame good teachers, push their voices to the side, devalue their creativity, and never expect a higher quality of work, how can we expect them to grow? And further, how will we expect their students to grow? It is a toxic cycle that must be infiltrated with a more positive outlook.

Increasing play can help with that. Not only did Sahlberg and Doyle provide research to support that increased play time, especially in lower grades, improved student attention and well-being, but it also decreased teacher stress and made them happier as well. They were given breaks and time to collaborate with other teachers during recess.

I was also very interested in the growing body of evidence and correlation that links more play time (without adult intervention) to better physical and mental health, reduced depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts, better social skills, a willingness to fail, increased self-confidence, and overall happiness and attention of a child. There was also a correlation between decreased play and increased academic rigor that led to an increase in depression, anxiety, and suicide, and an over-diagnosis of ADHD.

Reading through this research and seeing worldwide examples of how play has helped communities grow and thrive was fascinating. Although this book was centered mainly on Pre-K through about 5th grade (~3 to 10 year olds) the concepts and ideas discussed can be translated for all students through high school. Play is just as important for our moody teens as it is for our rambunctious toddlers.

There is so much more I could say and discuss about this book, but I want you to read it and form your own thoughts on the value of play. Check it out from your local library or find it in a bookstore. Then let me know what you thought of the book!

Read on,


Teacher Recommendation:

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who has kids, works with kids, or is involved in a field that affects children. Although there were a couple things I didn’t agree with, the message that play is critical for children to develop is undeniable. Let the Children Play is centered on younger students and grades, but the ideas and principles can be brought up through the high school levels (with a little more creativity, of course).

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