Play Is The Way

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Former principal, Leroy Slanzi, talks about how Play is the Way can teach children how to regulate their emotions:

Behaviour Education and Self-Management


Merritt Central Elementary is proud to be a lighthouse school for the implementation of the “Play Is The Way” program. This philosophy is the cornerstone of our Behaviour Education and Self Management approach. We see BESM (Behaviour Education and Self Management) as a responsibility of the entire school community.  Students, parents and teachers need to have a clear understanding of what is expected, in regards to how we treat each other, to ensure a welcoming learning environment that is supportive and safe.


“Behaviour education is most effective when built into, not onto curriculum.”


Our belief is that PLAY IS THE WAY™ program is the most effective way to achieve our objective of socially and emotionally competent children.


“Behaviour is shaped by the sum total of regular and frequent lessons that create small but meaningful changes over a long and sustained period of time.”
-Wilson McCaskill (Founder – PLAY IS THE WAY™)


Training students to be in control of their thoughts, feelings and actions allows them to harness their many and varied abilities and skills to pursue the abundant pathways to success in life.

The PLAY IS THE WAY™ program of physically interactive games with its philosophy and supporting language achieves the following outcomes:


  • Develops positive social behaviour.
  • Creates a shared body of experience that is used to build


  • Highlights the benefits of managing emotions and working together.
  • Develops optimism and the ability to bounce back.
  • Encourages self-motivation and the capacity to persevere.
  • Initiates a process of self-awareness and discovery.
  • Creates a positive tone and safe school culture.
  • Fun, excitement and challenge.




Each teacher selects a game to be implemented during the whole school morning games program that runs FIVE times a week. Once the school year settles in teachers will switch classes with their colleagues. By doing this classroom teachers get to know all the students in their respective wings (primary & Intermediate).




We believe that the language we use, when correcting children on their behaviour, is key to creating opportunities for students to accept responsibility for their actions, make correct choices and develop resilience. This language is firmly embedded throughout our school.

When dealing with children, it’s important to maintain your composure and speak in a calm manner whilst utilizing the 6 key questions of the PLAY IS THE WAY™ Self-Control Checklist.  Every teacher uses a common language approach as part of our BESM policy.


Teachers must talk in a way that allows students to reflect – not react, and should behave in a way that allows students to accept – not defend.  Teachers use language prompts and language that encourages self-control.  They also take the time to use language prompts to re-direct behaviour both in front of the class and individually.


Reflective Language


  • “Right thing or wrong thing to do?”
  • “Strong decision or weak moment decision?”
  • “Feelings or thinking in charge?”
  • Am I trying to hurt you or help you?”
  • “Are you running away from the problem or dealing with it?”
  • “Being your own boss or asking me to be the boss?”





As teachers, we must make perceptive observations that will lead students to awareness.  During all games sessions teachers are asked to make at least one observation that makes students reflect about how the game is going.  By implementing careful questioning and respectful suggestions we encourage more meaningful conversations around students’ behaviour.


“Are You Ready?”


This “Play is the Way” strategy has a clear focus on teaching students the importance of “code switching” and setting clear goals.



Next Steps for Merritt Central Elementary School


GPS (Growing Personally and Socially)


Some classrooms prefer to run GPS.  GPS is a time when the whole class comes together, sits in a circle as a group and concentrates on building a ‘safe classroom community’ through reflections, discussion and sharing.


GPS develops the students’ ownership over the classroom.  It helps develop an understanding of the behaviours that occur on a daily basis and assists students to understand the behaviour self-management process.  GPS provides a forum for enacting our key virtues and raises empathy levels through learning more about their peers.


3Rs METHOD (Play is the Way)


An intervention to develop student self-management, empathy, decency and strength of character as the means to reduce damaging and anti-social behaviour in Elementary schools. 
The process requires specific teaching around the elements of the method.  These include: writing letters of apology. Students are given conflict situations that they need to read and discuss. Students write letters of apology using the framework provided which focuses on what they are saying sorry for, what they were feeling and why, and stating what it would have been better to do in that situation.


Students also need to be given access to a “virtues word list” and “feelings word list” and engaged in discussion around these words as an element of class meetings/GPS.  We assist students to develop a bank of words to draw from in this area.



Making things better, paying back and moving on.


The intent of the 3Rs Method is to raise empathy, build self-awareness, encourage self-respect and encourage self-control.  The student can then reconnect with the community.

It’s holistic because the method involves all stakeholders (active involvement). The method is done with the student and not to the student.


Teachers have the option of taking a student through the Full 3Rs Method.  Admin will look after the rest of the class if a teacher chooses to complete the method with the student.  Alternatively, a member of Admin will complete the method.


Parents are contacted and informed about the incident and encouraged to discuss it with their child and sign the documentation.  The documentation is returned to school and the student carries out the final part of the process, e.g. Gardening.


Re-entry Procedure


The teacher must initiate a GPS or class meeting when the student returns to class. The student must read his or her apology letter and discuss the strong decision he/she must make in order to rejoin the class community.


The student receives feedback from his peers on how his/her action affected the class community and how they will assist the student in making strong decisions.




Play Is The Way


Every teacher will implement “Play is the Way” games for a minimum of five mornings a week. Staff needs to familiarize themselves with all the resources available for Play is the Way. New staff will be given professional development at the start of the year. As per school policy, teachers will also be involved in taking each other’s classes on a rotational basis. The games implementation is discussed at staff meetings.




Every teacher does focus on the acknowledgment and reinforcement of good manners in our community.  We believe manners are the lubricating oil of a community.  Manners create the tone and culture of a school.




Every attempt is made to keep parents informed at every level of the BESM process.  It is vital to cultivate a productive link between home and school, as this is a determining factor of success when improving a students’ behaviour.


Newsletter inserts are provided regularly to explain the different parts of the BESM process and more importantly to share the powerful language used at Merritt Central Elementary School.



Rescue vs. Support.


“Falsely rescuing children from emotional discomfort and difficulty weakens their resilience 
and lessens their capacity to persevere.”




Praise needs to specific and sincere, with the intention of giving meaningful feedback to a child.


“Think of praise (and attention) as you would food.  
No child should starve from a lack of it, 
just as no child should become obese from too much.”


No rewards or punishment policy


At Merritt Central we are working towards developing self-motivated learners. We believe using rewards and punishments to manipulate students’ behaviour is intrinsically objectionable and counterproductive. It takes talent, effort and patience to help students develop the skill of self-control and the commitment to manage their own behaviour.  Instead of using rewards, praise and punishments we need to teach children to reflect upon their actions and to learn more about themselves.




We are trialing a program this year called the “Ultimate Community Role Model” (UCRM).  The program focuses on the development and practice of key VALUES: courage, friendliness, good manners, tolerance, persistence and compassion are the values we are developing.

The aim of the program is to get students to demonstrate and practice these VALUES until they become a deeply ingrained habit of action or a VIRTUE.


It helps students develop a greater awareness of themselves; the virtues they are strong in and others they need to work on.


It provides more informative feedback for students.  Instead of teachers saying, “This is great work!” teachers at Merritt Central add “This is great work because you persisted.” or “You did well because you were more tolerant during group work.”  Ideally we want students saying, “Gee when I persist I do better.”  “If I’m more tolerant with others, I learn more and the group gets more done.”


As teachers we now look at students a little differently.  For example “Simon is a really quiet, nice student but he has never been acknowledged for courage or for friendliness.  I need to work with him to develop these qualities.”


If a student is finding it difficult to make friends or struggling with the peer group then the process is an effective reflection tool.  It gives the student a clear goal to work on. Teachers and students can set some clear goals around the virtues such as friendliness, good manners or courage. It is these virtues that the student can do something about.


This process is not just about the individual. Students monitor each other within their group. They can clearly label or articulate when a member of the group is not exhibiting a key virtue.

There are three virtues we will focus on in the primary grades this year and six in the intermediate grades.


The primary VIRTUES are: courage, friendliness and good manners. The intermediate VIRTUES include the three identified in the primary classes and three more, which are: persistence, compassion and tolerance.


It is important that students are pursuing virtuous behaviour not solely as a means to be rewarded, or to please the teacher, but because they see personal and community benefits in doing so. To this end, teachers will be frugal in their use of superlatives and nurture the belief that the right thing should be done simply because it is the best thing to do.


General Acknowledgements


Teachers acknowledge a student who demonstrates any of the identified virtues throughout the day and encourages students to look for those values in each other. Acknowledgements are completed quickly and succinctly then students return to work.


An example would be instead of saying “Good work!” it might sound like “I’d like to acknowledge Simon. He demonstrated persistence to complete this work and although he was having trouble, he worked through it.”  The class then continues. General acknowledgements can be given to individuals or groups of students and are unlimited in number.


Formal Acknowledgements (After Spring Break)


These are given when a teacher believes a student has turned a value into a virtue and therefore has been an excellent role model of a particular virtue. When this happens the teachers organize a “Formal Ceremony.”


This is done in a significant way. No certificate or reward is given to these students. It is important that the ceremony itself is a treasured experience. Therefore special guests are invited, including parents and members of the school community. Teachers record all students who receive a formal acknowledgement.


  • have all six certificates.
  • The entire staff will make the final decision.




It is important to discuss the declaration with students, as a way of demonstrating, that the values we live by at Merritt Central are “universal” and go beyond the school. These values are prevalent in our community and the world.


The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Article One


“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”


All of the preceding processes, method and strategies are linked under the banner of the GOLDEN RULE and this forms the basis of BESM.



At Merritt Central Elementary School it is expected that all staff will uphold, and model the Golden Rule 
in the belief that we cannot ask from our students what we will not give of ourselves.