Unleashing Play in Ireland

  1. Updates
  2. Bringing Out The Best
  3. From the Playground

A tightly wound spring, a ball atop a hill, a newly planted seed, or a young child in a swing asking “Higher! Higher!”: our intentions to bring out the best in children hold a similar momentum. We make the nudge without knowing how high the spring will bounce, how far the ball will roll, how strong the plant will grow, or how high our children will soar.

Back in 2013, Playworks was invited to “unleash” our approach to safe and healthy play in Ireland. Three years later, this momentum has swept across schools around the country.

Playworks helps schools create a place for every kid on the playground to feel included, be active, and build valuable social and emotional skills. Playworks was invited to bring that approach across the pond, so we led two week-long summer trainings to test whether those schools could replicate what we are doing here in the US. The impact we saw was incredible.

That training was the last direct support we provided. Fast forward three years later, and now you’ll find many educators and schools across Ireland learning everything they can from those who experienced our first training. Schools like Galway Educate Together National School are hosting site visits from new principals hoping to cultivate the same culture of healthy play on their campuses.


Newspapers are reporting on the incredible changes on “the yard.” Administrators are willing to take risks exploring new approaches to play because they see the smiles on children’s faces when they enter schoolyards where they feel respected and included. Most importantly, youth are taking advantage of the opportunity to have as much input into their recess as the adults.

Learn about upcoming Playworks opportunities in Ireland.

Before schools in Ireland invited Playworks to come play, most recesses in Ireland followed a very common approach to play: adults take kids out to yard, provide some equipment, leave it up to kids to figure it out, and intervene in any unwanted behaviors. The general approach to recess here in the United States is very similar, so the vigorous spread of healthy play in Ireland is not a result of cultural differences.

Instead, our experience in Ireland demonstrates what’s possible when adults approach a system with a sincere curiosity to master the techniques needed for success.

I remember an M.V.P. administrator approached me during a short break in one of our trainings to say, “Sean, I have to say that what you’re bringing to us is mad man! This different approach to play.” (‘Mad’ in Ireland is equivalent to ‘awesome’ or ‘unbelievable’.)

“There’s just one thing,” he continued, “This high five thing…it’s ah…really asking us to step out there you know. All this “good job” you know the Irish aren’t really into that sort. You miss a goal and you get told to do better, you make the goal and you just keep playing.”

Learning more about the Irish approach to play and sporting, I thought it might have taken longer for the adults in our workshop to “try it on”, but this wasn’t the case. Throughout our learning together, adult supported each other in challenging the status quo, processing thoughts, listening to experiences, and building accountability. We cherished this opportunity to learn together and recognized the gravity of this opportunity to create healthy play for our children.

I am thrilled to see safe and healthy play taking off in schools across Ireland, thanks to the efforts of incredible Irish educators committed to bringing out the best in children.


More Updates

Kids playing jumprope
Kids playing jumprope

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