Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Disorganized Sports + Unstructured Play

When asking children: 
What is your favorite part of school?
    It is not uncommon to get this answer:  
      I still like to play :)
      Sadly, in schools today, recess is on it's way toward extinction.  On a parenting group I belong to, student's back to school schedules were shared.  Sadly, very few included time for recess. Yet at a recent conference I listened to brain researcher John Medena  who shared that activity, movement, and exercise is crucial for boosting brain power.  Not only does play make you smarter, this article points to play being a great way to alleviate ADD / ADHD symptoms. Unfortunately, educators are in a state of panic in our test prep obsessed education system, no longer able to think clearly about what is truly best for our children. 

      If today's teachers and administrators had the opportunity to pull themselves away from the worksheets and bubblesheets they would find that play is an essential component of student success as pointed to in the article Can We Play by Psychologist David Elkin.  In the article Elkin shares that recess is already extinct in more than 30,000 U.S. schools that have eliminated recess to make more time for academics and that children’s time spent outdoors has fallen 50 percent since the 1990s.
      This isn't just a problem in schools either.  While parents today are racing to get their kids into organized sports, programs and extra tutoring, decades of research has shown that play is crucial to physical, intellectual, and social- emotional development at all ages. Elkin points out that this is especially true of the purest form of play: the unstructured, self-motivated, imaginative, independent kind, where children initiate their own games and even invent their own rules.  Not only is this great for kids, it also happens to be free for parents!

      Elkin warns us that while play is on the decline, it essential to leading a happy and healthy life. Read the whole article along with the research he points to here. You can check out this story about play on NPR here. You can read Linda Dobson's recent article about play here.


      1. I'll never forget my first year teaching overseas in a large, urban school. The school scheduled 90 minutes for "Field Day". I asked, "What do I need to plan?"

        "Nothing," my colleague said. "It's an opportunity for kids to run around on grass. The PE teachers plan Sports Day later in the year - that is organized."

        I was stunned - and thrilled. The daily 15 minute chunk on a rooftop area is not enough. We have three "Field Days" every year and the kids love it!

        Students' standardized scores are not suffering. :)

      2. Play is just "activity engaged in for enjoyment and recreation" yet it is often just defined as children running on grass or playing at recess. Kids at home in a basement are 'playing' video games but aren't likely to experience the brain boost from activity.

        Unfortunately, the problem goes much father than the reach of schools. Often students don't know how to play. They have no concept of what to do or even how to organize each other because they are so used to having adults control their lives.

        If we want kids to get better at active play we need to give them both opportunity and support. Just like any other activity it doesn't just happen.