National early childhood education specialist Dr. Brian Wright will help launch an initiative Tuesday to infuse playful learning—meaningful and actively engaging educational experiences driven by student interest—into Rochester City School District (RCSD) classrooms.

Hosted by Healthi Kids, a grassroots coalition and initiative of Common Ground Health, the free virtual event will take place from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 5. The event is for any RCSD families, students, teachers, and organizations interested in moving forward the community’s vision for playful learning – something research has shown to be a more effective approach to instruction.

“Hundreds of families and students have shared with us throughout the summer that playful learning is about offering to all children in the district opportunities that provide a well-rounded education,” said Jenn Beideman, advocacy manager at Common Ground Health. “This could be anything from experiential learning opportunities, field trips, daily active recess, or access to sports clubs and extracurricular activities. It’s about teaching in a way that actually makes learning joyful and fun.”

Wright, an assistant professor of early childhood education at the University of Memphis and author of The Brilliance of Black Boys: Cultivating School Success in the Early Grades, will speak on how to advance playful learning opportunities in a way that will best honor, celebrate and center Black and Latino students across the district.

Equitable access to playful learning and unstructured play opportunities throughout the day is central to the education, health, and well-being of all children—and is critical now more than ever because of the pandemic.

“Culturally responsive playful learning is important because it's the easiest way for children to learn,” said Sasha Lewis, mother of an RCSD high school sophomore in the district and a parent leader on the Healthi Kids Coalition. “Through play they build relationships, innovate, problem solve, and develop so many necessary skills to understand and navigate their environment.”

Healthi Kids partnered with student and parent leaders, the Rochester City School District, ROC the Future, the Strong National Museum of Play and others over the spring and summer to identify strengths and barriers to playful learning, and to share ideas for more imaginative and exploratory educational experiences. Release of a full report on their work is planned for November.

“The Rochester City School District is committed to providing high quality learning experiences and advancing well-rounded education opportunities to all of our scholars,” said RCSD Superintendent Dr. Lesli Myers-Small. “We are pleased to partner with this important initiative and work alongside our families to identify areas to maximize the power of play in our learning environments”.