“Play is problematic in Australia … [but] play is integral to a child’s education. The lifelong success of children is based on their ability to be creative and to apply the lessons learned from playing,” Sahlberg said at EduTECH. 

“Why aren’t we taking seriously what pediatricians are saying about play being crucial for children’s health, growth and learning?"

He cited a survey conducted by global toy manufacturer LEGO, which found almost one out of five children said they were too busy to play.

“What’s going on here – what is this thing that keeps them busy?

“Many parents believe that their children benefit more from structured activities as opposed to unstructured free play and outdoor activities. There’s less and less time for kids’ own play using their own creativity, leadership and decision-making – it’s at the heart of power play. Outdoor play is the highest order of play.”

Sahlberg has delved into the play issue with William Doyle, with whom he cowrote Let the Children Play: Why more play will save our schools and help children thrive. It’s for teachers, parents, scholars and decision-makers and is due out mid-year.

In researching the book, he went to the US and found that only 13 of its states have laws mandating recess time and eight have recommendations for physical activity.

Meanwhile, in Mexico, many parents said they don’t want to pay for the time their children play or sleep in early childhood centres.

“This is happening because many schools and school systems are concerned about children getting the best results in standardised tests,” he said.

"What I’m seeing happening here and overseas … [is] things aren’t getting better regarding children’s opportunities to play. You have huge power within your community and school to change these things.

After his EduTECH talk, two teachers asked Sahlberg how they could encourage more ‘play’ in a high school setting.

“It comes down to time and space. If the kids don’t have those, play is not going to happen,” he said.

That holds true for any age, including teachers. And, no, he’s not working on any research projects about how teachers can ‘embrace’ play more in their own professional lives (yes, we asked).

Instead, Sahlberg is working on two research projects involving play as an equity issue in low socio-economic areas using LEGO to engage children in STEM-related learning.