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Let's Play!!

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NPR recently ran a series on the the pressure to cut recess in favor of more academic time in American schools. My youngest is about to start full day kindergarten. He is my fourth child to do this, but my first boy. In light of this TED talk on boys in our schools, I’ve been wondering what it will be like to watch a son go through school. I’ve felt more apprehensive than I did with my girls. The NPR spot on the decline of recess in our schools alarmed me. I immediately looked up how much time my son would have at recess this fall. Turns out he will get 70 minutes a day, which I am happy with, though I wouldn’t complain if he got more. Apparently, many American kids aren’t so lucky and will have to make do with much less play-time.

The decline in play time in American schools is a response to failing schools and dropping test scores, which became mandated with the No Child Left Behind Act. The faulty premise is that if we have more time to cram knowledge into our kids, they will perform better. Contrast this with Finland, which has gained notoriety lately for its phenomenally performing schools (which out perform our schools by any measure). How do they approach play? Well, differently then us. For starters, Americans average 27 minutes of recess time a day, while the average is 75 minutes in Finland. That contrast is made all the more dramatic when you consider that their school days are shorter than ours (and they spend less time doing homework). Anyone want to move to Finland with me?

If there is one mantra that sticks out to me from my child development classes in college, it is this: “play is a child’s work.” Which is to say, all kinds of valuable things are happening in a child’s brain when they play. They are actively learning when playing. They are processing and solidifying classroom learning on the playground. Not only is play learning, it is preparation for learning. Active play puts kids mentally in a space where they can absorb new information when they go back to the classroom. So much is lost when we yank this mental/physical rug out from under them. As Ken Robinson says, “If you sit kids down hour after hour doing low grade clerical work, don't be surprised if they start to fidget.”

I feel strongly about our kids need and right to play time. It is an essential component of a well rounded curriculum.  Take some time to explore the links below to learn how different cultures approach child's play and education.

  • I know they are 20 minutes, but oh please, listen to the brilliant (and funny) Ken Robinson:
           How To Escape Educations Death Valley
           Schools Kill Creativity


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