A showcase of FIGT Members' written work, focusing on the issues we study, the best practices we share, and the strategies we provide to support expatriates and cross cultural individuals and their families. Contributions are a privilege for Small Business and Corporate membership levels only and you can submit up to 3 posts per year. Please use our online form below to submit a blog for consideration or contact blogeditor@figt.org.

  • 02 Oct 2021 4:34 PM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    The FIGT community welcomes new members to its Board, beginning October 1st. In this post, incoming Nominations Director Daniela Draugelis answers a few questions about herself and what her new role means to her.


    Can you please briefly describe your FIGT role?

    I am the incoming Nominations Director. As such, I will be responsible for overseeing the FIGT volunteer community. This includes following up with individuals who reach out about volunteer vacancy positions and liaising with FIGT Directors who have volunteer needs. I also support Directors in crafting committee role descriptions and following volunteer standard operating procedures, as well as maintaining the volunteer community records and placements. 


    I don't do this alone. I will work with four Nominations Committee members who will help me identify, screen, and select individuals to serve in open Director roles and contribute to creating the Board development and onboarding strategy.

    What inspired you to stand for this particular office?

    As it is common in our globally global lives, my family will be relocating from Washington DC, USA to Islamabad, Pakistan later this year. After spending the last four years building the FIGT-DC Affiliate and getting to know the amazing FIGT community, I was looking for a way to remain involved in FIGT and continue to contribute to the organization from my new location. 

    I have been volunteering for different organizations from a very early age and strongly believe that volunteering provides many benefits - physical, mental, social and emotional. It provides you with an opportunity to explore skills, creativity, motivation, and vision that you can carry into your professional life. It can also provide a sense of accomplishment, increase your self-esteem, self-confidence and life satisfaction. But most importantly, volunteers are sometimes the glue that hold a community together and make it a better place, where even the smallest task can make a big difference. I am hoping that through my role as Nominations Director overseeing the volunteer community I can make a positive impact in the greater FIGT community. 


    Anything you particularly hope to accomplish this year? What do you look forward to?

    I am looking forward to motivating members to volunteer and engaging with them throughout the year, showing them the value of their work and their contributions to the FIGT community. I am also looking forward to working with the FIGT Board members, learning from them, developing relationships, friendships and contributing to the growth and betterment of FIGT. 


    Your favorite thing about being a part of FIGT? 

    It has been said many times that FIGT has been “life-changing” for many people, and I couldn’t agree more. Since I found FIGT, I finally found a place where I belonged. My favorite thing? The personal and virtual connections I’ve made with people who “get me”, that don’t look at me strangely when I tell them my “long story”, or that I have three passports, and I’ve lived in five countries, and speak four languages. It is that sense of belonging to a community of like-minded people who share a common background, a common sense of identity that brings us together and bonds us. Where geographic distances do not matter; where age and gender do not matter. Where all that matters is that we can all lean on each other even during the hardest times without needing to explain why, because we’ve all traveled down the same road and know what it means to live “in global transition”. 

    Can you share a random piece of info about yourself?

    Growing up in Argentina, I did not have a telephone in my house until I was 17 years old, which was quite challenging as a teenager when boys started asking me for my phone number after a first date! So what did I do? I had to say “I don’t have a phone at home, but you can give me yours, and I can call you!”. So if I liked the boy I would go to the closest payphone and call him to arrange the next date. Alternatively, I would say “Or you can call my mom at work and leave her a message and I will call you back.” Some brave souls did… I believe this might have contributed to my bold and assertive personality. 


    Please share some words of wisdom for FIGT members and globally mobile people in general.

    Don’t be shy to connect with people, listen to their stories, ask questions. There are invaluable resources in the FIGT website produced by incredibly talented professionals and people who’ve walked the same walks of life as you have. Take the time to explore and follow us on social media because you might find a connection, that a-ha moment that you were searching for, or the inspiration to start something new - a business, a book, or an affiliate in your own city. The energy of FIGT is contagious! 


    To other globally mobile families and individuals - you are not alone! You don’t have to embark on this journey alone. FIGT is a community of people who have “been there, done that ''. We understand the challenges that come with living a globally mobile life - from moving, parenting, career obstacles, social and emotional difficulties, cultural adaptation, school choice, to repatriation and reverse culture shock. We also understand the amazing benefits and rewards that come with living a culturally rich and diverse globally mobile life, and how difficult it could be to sometimes balance it all! You are not alone. The FIGT community can offer a place where you may find like-minded people to lean on and resources to help you make sense of it all. Come join us - there is a place for you here!  


  • 30 Sep 2021 4:52 PM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    FIGT held its Annual Members Meeting on September 11, 2021. Below is outgoing FIGT Executive Secretary, Trisha Carter's report from that virtual meeting.


    The FIGT Annual Members Meeting was held on the 11th September 2021.  It was only the second time the meeting has been held virtually and again was supported by Members around the globe. 


    FIGT President, Dawn Bryan, described this past year for the organization as one of “momentum and change” and presented her Annual Report. [You can download the whole PDF here.]


    Our Membership, “the glue that holds us together”,  includes people in over 50 countries and provides critical income that enables FIGT to exist. The announcement of a new category of membership with a lower price point for those who may have difficulty paying the full membership rate, was a welcome commitment to building a more inclusive community.


    Our Sponsors have also been a critical part of FIGT supporting our on-going work throughout each year and playing a vital role in the conference.  Dawn thanked each of our Sponsors for their contribution to our work.


    News from the Research Network, was shared by Research and Education Director, Anastasia Lidaji.  The FRN are currently supported by over 230 researchers, and have held a highly successful webinar series throughout this year.  These webinars shared knowledge and supported networking and mentoring.  The E-Posters soon to be shared on the FIGT website are a vital record of the FIGT2021 conference that Anastasia initiated and managed. 


    Affiliates have again played a vital role in creating safe meeting spaces around the world for FIGT Members and Supporters to gather, learn and share experiences. New Affiliates have launched including the interest based, International Education Affiliate and the Melbourne Affiliate has become ANZA (the Australia, New Zealand Affiliate) after a year of virtual meetings supporting people virtually far beyond the initial Melbourne location. 


    Our Communications Team – the largest group of volunteers within FIGT – shared the results of launching on Instagram, gaining over 300 followers in the first month and continuing to grow over 110% since.  While also maintaining information and engagement  on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. 


    Our first virtual conference held in 2021 had the highest attendance of any of our conferences and was positively evaluated by the attendees. 


    Planning for FIGT2022 is underway and Program Director, Stephen Toole, announced the theme and new session formats, with many comments and questions from meeting attendees.  Applications are now open for speakers so learn all about it here.  Stephen also asked for help from Volunteers able to assist with the work in assessing Applications and planning the Conference Program.


    Other exciting developments to come in the months ahead shared by Dawn include: 

    • New FIGT website in 2022

    • Rearticulated Values

    • New ways to donate to and sustain the organization

    • Strategic changes to our Pollock scholarship program


    Most importantly our Treasurer, LaShell Tinder, shared a positive fiscal outlook, thanks to “stewarding resources wisely” and positive income results from conference, membership and sponsorship. She also announced a new way to support FIGT through becoming a Sustaining Donor.


    Dawn acknowledged that the work of FIGT would not be possible without the more than 100 volunteers, who fill roles from Board Members, to Committees and to the Communications Team. Dawn welcomed the new Board Directors who will take up their roles in October and thanked and farewelled the Board members who will be rotating off the Board.


    The past year has been a challenging one for many of us globally.  It was encouraging to look back and review the work of FIGT over that time and to look ahead with hope and positivity for the year ahead. 



    Executive Secretary 

    Trisha Carter (until September 30th)




    If you’re not yet an FIGT member, we would love you to join us and be a part of our supportive, learning community of globally minded individuals around the world. Find out more at Membership.

    And please join us on FacebookLinkedIn, Instagram, or Twitter and sign up to our newsletter to get updates!


  • 29 Sep 2021 12:32 PM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    As part of our FIGT Focus on Career, FIGT member Natasha Winnard shares the invaluable life lessons she has learned from over 20 years of living- and working- overseas. 


    By Natasha Winnard

    If you had asked my 24-year-old self back in Liverpool in the UK in the 1990s where my career would take me, I doubt it would have included earthquakes, sandstorms in the desert, or watching Christ the Redeemer lit against the Rio sky. The past 20 years has seen a journey that has been as surprising as it has been unplanned - and it has been all the richer for it.


    We all learn lessons from the lives we lead. Whether that be a life spent raising a family back in our home country, or a life spent moving from place to place as we make our personal and professional way as expatriates. So what have those lessons been for me?



    Intentionally Learn

    Be open to constantly learning from, and with, talented people. One of the many wonderful aspects of an international life is that we have the opportunity to work with, and meet, people who have work and life experiences that are completely different from ours.

     

    Dreams Don’t Work Unless We Do

    Building a career overseas can be incredibly hard work. But like with many things in life, hard work pays off.

     

    Trust Your Gut

    When we are trying to develop a career overseas alongside family life it can be exhausting trying to figure out what is best for everyone. Trust your gut. If it feels right for you, the chances are it is right for your family. 

     

    A Team Approach

    If we are sharing this journey with a partner then take a team approach. Articulate, agree and plan together who is doing what and when, in terms of career paths. And both be willing and flexible to change direction if a new and exciting opportunity comes your way. 

     

    Nobody has the Perfect Career

    There are very few people anywhere in the world who have a perfect career path. It is normal to have days when our career is not going in the direction that we would like. It is also very tempting, on those tough days, to think that the grass may be greener if we were living somewhere else or if our circumstances were different. 

     

    Always Have a Plan B

    With every international move and career opportunity, have a Plan B. This gives us the confidence to jump at exciting career opportunities and change direction, if needed.

     


    Maximise Opportunities

    Our lives overseas often present opportunities when we least expect them. Always be open to exploring potential new options, especially those that are out of our comfort zone.

     

    Reach Out for Support

    Don’t be afraid to share challenges, ideas, frustrations, struggles and dreams with friends, colleagues and other professionals. It can be isolating building a career overseas without support.


    Wherever you are in your journey right now - early in your expatriate adventure, or longer into the expatriate experience - remember that you have something that makes you very special: courage. It takes courage to lead the life you have chosen to lead as an expatriate, and even more courage if you are an expatriate parent. Don’t take that courage for granted. But you also have something else that I think has made all of the difference for me, and which I hope you value also: vulnerability. To be open to new cultures and new experiences is to be vulnerable to that which we cannot always control. That takes a special kind of person. If you are an expatriate mum or dad reading this, you should be pretty proud of yourself.



  • 28 Sep 2021 1:39 PM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    It’s that time of the year again when the FIGT community thanks and gives our fond farewells to outgoing Board Members. In this post, we catch up with LaShell Tinder as she shares some of the highlights from her past 2 years as Treasurer.


    LaShell joined the FIGT Board in 2019 and in these last couple of years, has seen some positive changes and growth in the organization. One aspect she is most proud of is “focusing on the sustainability of FIGT by looking at sponsorship, membership, and donations with a 360 view.” Specifically, this means considering “year-round activity instead of focusing solely on the annual conference. Also, ensuring compliance for tax reporting within the US to encourage outside donations, and collaborating on the first membership drive.” LaShell’s hard work and revisioning has paid off, as FIGT is “in a stronger position after 2 years, even without the major fundraising event of a live conference.”


    As Treasurer, LaShell prioritized two other main goals. First, she wanted members to find the budget more accessible and  easier to understand. She worked to “simplify the treasury process and ‘normalize’ the way that we look at the budget and reporting” which has resulted in “members being able to celebrate our financial good standing.” Second, LaShell focused on “supporting initiatives to take care of our volunteers and improve our website to make us more relevant in this digital age.” 


    She is quick to give thanks and appreciation to the FIGT community, and to the other board members, specifically, acknowledging their collective motivation and valued effort. “They make me so proud to be part of the organization. I am overwhelmed by the generosity of spirit and time committed by each and everyone of you! Much love to everyone!!”


    Thank you, LaShell, for all that you have done as FIGT Treasurer!

    Watch the FIGT Blog for upcoming posts welcoming and introducing to the community our new incoming board members. 



  • 21 Sep 2021 5:27 PM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    It’s that time of the year again when the FIGT community thanks and gives our fond farewells to outgoing Board Members. In this post, we hear from Megan Norton as she addresses the FIGT community about her time serving as Nominations Director.


    Dear Global Friends,

    It has been an honor and privilege to serve as the Nominations Director for the past four years. Serving on the FIGT Board has been more than ticking boxes, meeting a quota, or writing reports. It’s been an experience of creating a culture of radical kinship, courageous decision-making, and inspiring both trust and respect in our global community. It’s been an experience of listening and learning and of hearing and understanding. Being a part of FIGT leadership in this role has been so rewarding to me professionally and personally. I have felt valued and supported to have a deep sense of belonging and contribution.

    The highlight for me has been to serve alongside leaders who build faith - not just trust - in a culture of radical kinship. In so many different ways and times and for different reasons I've stretched myself, leaned into discomfort, learned from mistakes, grown in confidence, built discernment skills, expanded my local/global community, and realized how giving-back is multiplied in hundred-fold blessings back to me. I'm not leaving FIGT, basically only the 2-hour monthly Board of Director meetings. :)

    - Megan Norton, Nominations Director 2018 - 2021



    Thank you, Megan, for all that you have done as FIGT Nominations Director!

    Watch the FIGT Blog for upcoming posts welcoming and introducing to the community our new incoming board members. 




  • 21 Sep 2021 4:33 PM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    It’s that time of the year again when the FIGT community thanks and gives our fond farewells to outgoing Board Members. In this post, we hear from Trisha Carter as she shares the three things she cherishes most from her time as FIGT Secretary.


    Of the many positives Trisha says she bring away from her time on the FIGT Board, there are three main things she cherishes most.

    "Firstly, and most profoundly, I am so appreciative for the relationships built working in a global team, across time zones, datelines, languages and cultural differences - all of us unified with a common purpose! These relationships have been the greatest treasure.  

    Secondly, the opportunity to work for a purpose that I am deeply committed to - supporting people in global transitions / in cross-cultural experiences.  Building bridges of understanding has always been vital for me. 

    And thirdly, these past four years working in a strategic team guiding this precious NFP organisation through the challenges of everything the world has thrown at us - this has been the greatest opportunity for learning and growth. I’m very grateful for all of it. "






    Thank you, Trisha, for all that you have done as FIGT Secretary!

    Watch the FIGT Blog for upcoming posts welcoming and introducing to the community our new incoming board members. 


  • 21 Sep 2021 4:24 PM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    It’s that time of the year again when the FIGT community thanks and gives our fond farewells to outgoing Board Members. In this post, we share a parting message from Matilda Criel-Ewoldt as she reflects on what her time as Scholarship Director has meant to her.


    As Scholarship Director, I’ve had the honor to welcome into our community new thoughts and experiences, through the Pollock Scholars. That has been my main, and most cherished, role in FIGT. 

    This has been quite the journey. My term was right in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, from October 2019 to October 2021. I needed to re-think what the scholars look like in a virtual format and provide them with a new platform to work from. In doing so, both the role of the scholar and their engagement within FIGT grew. Scholars have an increasingly important role in our community, as we come to expand our knowledge of intersectionality. 

    One thing FIGT board members rarely share is how much work the board positions require. We all put our souls and hearts into this work. We believe in this mission: bridging families, providing for and embracing global individuals. I will never forget that I have been a part of FIGT in a moment of monumental growth. 

    The passion, the work, the camaraderie, the friendships, the community – I would do it all over again. I am so honored to have been Scholarship Chair and I will honestly miss it dearly. I am so glad that I am being replaced by the most qualified person and friend, Adam Geller. Good luck. 

    What’s next for me? I don’t quite know. At the same time I was serving on the FIGT Board, I completed my doctorate. FIGT helped me comprehend the global individual, on a psychological level. I would not have been able to complete my dissertation without your input, for that I thank you all! I have decided to take a year off to travel and think of new ways to help people; simultaneously embracing my international, intercultural identity and rekindling my love of travel and novelty. 


    Thank you, Matilda, for all that you have done as FIGT Scholarship Director!

    Watch the FIGT Blog for upcoming posts welcoming and introducing to the community our new incoming board members. 




  • 21 Sep 2021 12:04 PM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    It’s that time of the year again when the FIGT community thanks and gives our fond farewells to outgoing Board Members. In this post, we hear from Mariam Ottimofiore as she shares some of the highlights from her past 2 years as Membership Director.

    Mariam states, "I joined the FIGT Board in 2019 to give back to FIGT; an organization that I first came to know of and love in 2016. But as usual, during my time serving on the Board, FIGT has given me more than I could possibly give it in return."

    Mariam says that her time on the Board has been made even better by the amazing team she has worked along side. It has also been full of incredible learning experiences and positive experiences.

    "There have been so many highlights over the past two years, it would be hard to choose just one!" There was one moment that stands out as extra special:

    "Waking up on Day 2 of our first ever virtual conference to 365 messages on the FIGT Board Whatsapp group chat! With all of us spread in different time zones, we managed the annual conference around the clock as those in Australia/New Zealand fell asleep and those of us in Europe took over and then our US counterparts ended the day. It was an exercise in international coordination and logistics like no other and one which our global lives have prepared us for in so many ways. I am most proud of our teamwork leading up to the conference and beyond, but especially during those 3 manic days which I'll never forget as we problem-solved and burnt fires right, left and center!" She goes on to add, "huge thanks to every single FIGT volunteer who helped behind the scenes!"stood out as being extra special success, she remembers:

    During Mariam's time as an FIGT Board Member, a wonderful new tradition was started. One which she says "has been a highlight for me personally as FIGT's Membership Director and one which I will certainly miss." She is referring to the quarterly 'Welcome Coffee & Connects'.

    "We started hosting quarterly 'Welcome Coffee & Connects' to welcome our new FIGT members, introduce them to our community and guide them on the resources, groups, privileges and more that they have access to as a result of joining the organization. It was so refreshing to hear from new members themselves and hear their reasons for joining FIGT and connect them to the organization in the beginning of their membership. I hope this tradition will continue as I believe being welcoming and sharing generously what we know with others who join us is such a great reflection of FIGT and the values that guide our work. "


    Thank you, Mariam, for all that you have done as FIGT Membership Director!

    Watch the FIGT Blog for upcoming posts welcoming and introducing to the community our new incoming board members. 

  • 29 Aug 2021 1:23 PM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    As part of our FIGT Focus on Play, educational consultant and FIGT member April J. Remfrey shares how an eye-opening personal experience, along with a lot of expert support, reinforces the idea that play is not just important, it is worth defending. 

    FIGT Focus Blogs highlight the various voices of our community and reflect the personal views of the author, not necessarily those of FIGT. 


    By April J. Remfrey, MS

    Shortly after our daughter turned three, my husband and I decided to enroll her in preschool. She was an early talker and was showing interest in books and writing. Each night before bed, she insisted we read her a certain number of books. She also wrote on anything she could get her hands on – even the walls. It was obvious she was ready.

    Our search began with three different local schools, each with its own unique method of early childhood education: religious, forest immersion, and Montessori. We researched the pros and cons of each but tried to reserve judgment until seeing them for ourselves. Having nine years of experience teaching general and special education, I developed my own opinions on early childhood education. However, I went in with an open mind, understanding that each child is different, and we were choosing a place specific to our daughter's needs.


    The Idea That  Learning is "Academics"  

    Our first visit was to a preschool right down the road from our home. It was late afternoon when we pulled into the school parking lot for a group tour. We were a bit nervous, palms sweating and all, as we stepped into the whitewashed building with its green trim, surrounded by towering pine trees. Our first impression was encouraging, the building looked clean and welcoming, and the head of school and bubbly tour guide seemed engaged and enthusiastic.

    Everything was fine until we went into the first classroom. The room mirrored the exterior of the building: whitewashed with green trim. There were no pictures on the walls, no inviting, child-friendly seating, no toys stowed away in the corners. It felt like a classroom for fourth or fifth graders, not one for three-year-olds to grow and play. Trying to better understand what I was seeing, I asked about their daily activities.

    In her overly excited voice, the tour guide told us that the program's goal was for all of the three-year-olds to master their letters and numbers by the end of the school year. Although I'm fairly certain I was not hiding my surprise, she continued her prepared speech. She pointed to a small circular table in the corner, informing us that teachers used it to work one-on-one with students who were not progressing in their learning. At this point, I know my face showed my disgust. Letter and number mastery at three years old? I looked around at the other parents nodding their heads in approval, but I recoiled at the idea of trying to teach three-year-olds the beginnings of academics. Would some be ready? Maybe, but it seemed like not only a futile act but possibly even detrimental since most kids aren't developmentally ready for this type of learning until they're between five and seven years old!


    But Experts Agree...

    In 2015, The Atlantic published an article aptly titled, "When Success Leads to Failure." In this piece, Jessica Lahey writes about her experience during a parent-teacher conference when she explained to a parent that "her child has sacrificed her natural curiosity and love of learning at the altar of achievement." Ms. Lahey questions how our society demands success from students at any cost. She concludes that we, as teachers and parents, have taught children that achievement is the only acceptable option. 

    We've known that praising effort over intelligence is best practice for quite some time. In 1998, a New York Times article cited a study published years prior from Stanford psychology professor Dr. Carol Dweck regarding this idea. Since then, this research was preached repeatedly at school staff meetings and has been in my vernacular for the last twenty years. We know best practice is to praise effort but is that truly happening in school settings?

    Fast forward to 2007, and I am physically dragging my husband out of a preschool tour because neither Dr. Dweck's research nor Ms. Lahey's insights had permeated their whitewashed walls. I can't even remember if we finished the tour or if we left right then and there. What I do remember was the hiss of my disapproving whisper into my husband's ear: "She has her whole life to hate school! Why would they want to start that at three years old?" 

    Here in Switzerland, preschool and kindergarten emphasize socialization and developing self-help skills. A similar system can be found in Finland, which is known to produce well-socialized and emotionally intelligent students. You would never find a Swiss teacher forcing a three-year-old to memorize numbers and letters. For that matter, you wouldn't have found that in the US when I was a child either.


    ...That Playing IS Learning

    We need to let children be children. We've become so afraid of them being left behind in a highly competitive world that we're setting unrealistic academic expectations for children as young as three years old. Instilling a love for learning and school starts very young, but approaching education the wrong way could teach children to hate school from the very beginning. Most parents and educators would agree that we want our children to love to learn. It's essential to recognize that we can foster a love of learning by providing opportunities not tied to success or failure, but to the sheer enjoyment of figuring out something new. 

    So please, turn away from the preschools that lure families in with developmentally inappropriate promises. Look instead for the preschools that foster learning through play, social-emotional growth, and curiosity for learning and life. Thankfully, we found a preschool set back in the woods, where the children engaged in play-based learning, and our three-year-old loved to go to every day! I'm stepping off my soapbox now.



    April J Remfrey, MS, is an educational consultant that focuses her time working with international schools and globally mobile families with neurodiverse children. She has created an ILP/RTI goal documentation cloud-based program for international schools called STEP and works with international schools to help improve their inclusive practices. 

    She has a BA in special education and elementary education from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, USA and received a master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, USA in Exceptional Education. She has been a teacher for over 20 years in three countries and has experience in the public, private, and international school environments. 

    April serves on the International and European boards of directors for SENIA: Special Education Network and Inclusion Association.

    Since 2013, April, her husband, and daughter have lived in the Zurich, Switzerland area. Never one to sit still, April likes to hike in the stunning Swiss Alps, cook gourmet food, and play clarinet in the local concert band.

    See more at www.remfreyeducationalconsulting.com.  



  • 19 Aug 2021 12:34 PM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    Even in times of COVID, perhaps especially in times of COVID, FIGT member and international educator Jacob Huff explains why it is so important to "go play".


    By Jacob Huff

    While people of all ages can be involved in play activities, children have a unique ability to engage in play and a deep need to learn about themselves and the world around them in this way. Educators and educational researchers have long understood that it is a key element of growth and learning, but in 2013 the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child Article 31 established an international understanding of the rights of children to play. While it may seem intuitive, in these strange times, it is important to deeply understand what kinds of play educators and parents can use to meet the needs of the children in our care because life in the age of COVID has brought many new challenges, new questions, and new solutions. 


    I am an international educator. I am currently the elementary principal of an American curriculum school in Malaysia. I have served as an administrator and elementary teacher in Vietnam, China, the United States, and now Malaysia. When I think of play, one of the first things that always comes to my mind is the Vietnamese word đi chơi, which translates to “go play”. I have loved it as an expression of the purity and joy of play. As a parent, as an educator, and as a scholar I hope that I can help all children to đi chơi. To do so let’s have a look at the uses of play in our lives.


    What is play?

    Play can be broken into two categories: structured and unstructured. When we think of children at play many people typically think of unstructured play. 


    Unstructured play is what children naturally do with or without guidance from adults. It has benefits in physical, social, and emotional growth. It can take many forms but must incorporate two essential elements, freedom and fun (Roche 2018). In play, children find joy but also learn about themselves and learn skills that they will use in their adult life. Self play provides opportunities to understand the physical world, use their imaginations, and increase their motor skills. Cooperative play brings social understanding, problem solving, conflict resolution, and collaboration into the mix. 


    Structured Play is purposeful play time, often led or directed by adults. These can include formal games, puzzles, task-oriented play-based learning, organized sports, goal-oriented activities, etc. They are designed to be both fun and learning opportunities. Both structured and unstructured play are essential for children and adolescence to grow; both should be provided for and encouraged. 


    At School

    In schools when we think of play most people think about the playground. The playground, recess, between class breaks, PE, and sports are all important opportunities for students to experience a combination of both structured and unstructured play. Sadly, in our high pressure educational environment, many schools have done away with or shortened recess and school breaks. 


    I once worked in a school as a teacher that had discontinued recess because the administration was unhappy with the number of office referrals that came after them. Other schools have removed recess because they feel that they cannot meet curriculum demands if they give up class time for recess. My suggestion is for parents to avoid sending their child to a school that makes this decision because unstructured play is mission-critical for learning. 

    As important as unstructured play is for students to engage in during the day for socialization and brain breaks, schools use many different forms of structured play to specifically target various goals in the school. Much of what you will see in the school would fall under the heading of Guided Active Play. Broadly speaking guided play has two forms; adult-designed activities and child-directed activities. Adult-designed guided play is an exploration in which an adult has set the parameters and determined the objective. Child-directed guided play involves activities in which adults didn’t set the parameters but ask questions, encourage exploration, ask-open ended questions, focus student attention on new knowledge, or provide reinforcement (Weisberg et al., 2016). 


    A wonderful example of this is play-based learning in early childhood programs but it can be done at all grade levels. One popular example would be Marker Spaces and Genius Hours which allow students to explore science, design, computing, and engineering through play and exploration. 


    At Home

    I always tell parents that one of the best things they can do is to play with their children. That sounds simple but sometimes simple things must be remembered and nurtured or they do not happen. In our highly competitive modern lives it can be very easy to overschedule our children and have limited time as a family, but just like in school it is a mistake when families do not allow for both structured and unstructured play for children. 


    Sports can be a great opportunity for structured play but I always encourage families to invest the time to give children and adolescents unstructured playtime and also to be directly involved in structured playtime together. It is fun and also gives families bonding time. Another point to consider is the amount of television, video games, and other screen time that students get. 


    It is far too easy to let children spend too much time on devices at the expense of real-world interaction and physical play. This is not to say that children should not be allowed to use devices for playtime, in fact, games like Minecraft, Roblox, Tinker, and Scratch can be wonderful expressions of creativity. But it is to say that families should have discussions together about limits to device usage and alternatives should be sought. 


    In my house, we practice a ritual called No Tech Tuesday. When we do this, we put down our devices, turn off the TV, and do analog things together. We try to do it every Tuesday evening. We read together, play card games, and take walks. It can include any activity which is done together, is fun, and doesn’t involve devices. We don’t always succeed but it is a fun work in progress. 


    Play in the age of COVID 

    COVID has changed everything. There have been lockdowns, movement restrictions, school closures, and many more stresses that we have never before had to deal with on a society-wide scale. While all elements of life have been impacted by COVID, play has been one area that children have suffered the most. Lockdowns and school closures have severely hampered children in their opportunities to engage in all types of play. Collaborative unstructured play is the most easily visible area of this but structured play has also been highly limited. 


    Teachers and parents have had to be inventive to combat this, but out of hardship novel solutions have emerged. PE classes have gone online. Programs like Kahoot!, Quizlet, Prodigy, and Blooket are great ways to add gamification to learning. Teachers have made fun videos for their students (see this video my teachers made for our kids). They use videos from platforms like GoNoodle to get students up and moving. They use video sessions to have students do talent shows. The list is endless. There are struggles but if there is one thing I have learned as a principal it is that teachers have an endless supply of clever and innovative ideas to help make learning and play accessible to students. At home parents have helped to set up video play dates, let their children play games with friends while talking to them in a video chat in the background, and set aside time to board play games as families. 


    It has been a hard time for everyone, even more so for international families who have not been able to visit their home countries or see families, but in challenging times we find strength together. I would encourage all families to evaluate the importance of play, understand their children’s needs, discuss it as a family, and seek opportunities for play. Play together, learn together, grow together, and I will see you on the other side because sometimes we all need to đi chơi!



    Works cited

    Roche, M. M. D. (2018). Children’s Right to Play. Journal of Moral Theology, 7(1), 124–140.


    Weisberg, D. S., Hirsh-Pasek, K., Golinkoff, R. M., Kittredge, A. K., & Klahr, D. (2016). Guided Play: Principles and Practices. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 25(3), 177–182. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0963721416645512



    Jacob Daniel Huff is a seasoned international who is now in his third decade living internationally. He currently lives in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia with his wife and daughter, where he works as an international school principal. He was a 2020/21 David C. Pollock Scholar and is presently writing his doctoral thesis on international school teachers' perspectives on TCK identity development. His next project is a collection of vignettes from ATCKs about their travels through the perspective of items they chose to bring with them throughout their international moves and the items they have lost along the way. If you would like to contribute to this project or contact him you can reach him at his LinkedIn profile https://www.linkedin.com/in/jacob-daniel-huff/ or his Twitter @mrjacobhuff


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