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Recess

  • Recess makes kids smarter

    Shwetha Ramani is a freelance communications professional who grew up in India and is now exploring the world of PR on the other side of the world, in the U.S. She lives outside of New York City with her husband.

    When I moved to the U.S. two years ago, one of the first things that struck me as different was not seeing throngs of kids running and playing outdoors. I grew up in India, where kids would all gather outdoors every evening and play well until 7 or 8 p.m. And during summer holidays and weekends, they would spend all day playing outdoors. But that wasn’t the only difference. A few months back, when I began working on Playworld’s Power of Recess campaign, I was very surprised to learn that schools in the U.S. are either cutting back or eliminating recess time altogether because of academic pressures.

    As someone who’s always had two recesses – a 15-minute short recess and a 40-minute long recess – I can attest that recess is a highlight of the typical school day. It provides kids with some much needed down time and allows them to reenergize themselves and focus better in class.

    I recall the boys in my class quickly finishing off lunch and then engaging in a game of cricket, creating a ball out of used silver foil paper and repurposing their pencil boxes as bats. The girls would either join the boys or form their own groups and walk around the school corridors. The lunch break encouraged us to be more physically active and when we returned to class once the break ended, the day didn’t seem all that long and dreary anymore. Also, some of the brightest kids in my class were the ones that played the most!

    The Indian education system is equally focused on academics. Yet, there are certain aspects (read: recess) that are given their due importance. Year after year, India produces a large number of students who excel in the STEM (science technology engineering mathematics) subjects, many of whom make their way to the U.S. to pursue their MBAs and doctorates. Does this have anything to do with sufficient recess time or the fact that Indians play more? While there is no concrete evidence to prove the correlation, it does provide us with some food for thought.

    The benefits of recess are clear. Why are so many schools cutting it back?

  • Scratching the June itch: keeping kids focused with play

    We anticipate it every year. Summer is quickly approaching and school is coming (or for some already has come) to an end. A few months off from school bring a more carefree attitude, fun activities and family vacations. However, this can also be a challenging time for teachers and parents who are struggling to keep children focused on academics for the final days of school. Kids tend to get antsy. They want to be outside playing and dreaming about how they’re going to spend their summers. But there’s still work to be done and teachers need their students to be at their desks and prepared to finish out the school year.

    Fortunately, there’s a fun and effective solution to helping kids stay focused during this last stretch: play! Allowing children to engage in active playtime provides them with an outlet for their energy. Besides letting them rest and recharge, it offers them the opportunity to communicate, cooperate and compromise, all skills they need to succeed academically as well in life.

    Think about it this way – would you like to sit at your desk all day long and not be allowed to take a break? Probably not. Well, it’s not any different for kids! We have to provide them with the playtime they need if we want them to perform well academically.

    Schools in Finland have successfully implemented this strategy throughout their school year. For every 45 minutes of instruction, children receive a 15-minute break. In fact, an American teacher who taught in Finland recently highlighted his experience. He noticed a drastic difference between implementing the American approach of prolonged periods of classes followed by a short break and implementing the Finnish approach. The Finnish approach resulted in a classroom full of focused, eager and happy kids, whereas the American approach led to a classroom full of restless and distracted kids.

    The more we provide kids with opportunities for free play, the more attentive they will be in the classroom – not just at the end of the year, but every school day. It’s important for play to be incorporated into children’s daily lives as it serves as an important platform for growth and discovery.

    Are you making sure your kids play enough?

  • Debating the necessity of childhood: why questioning recess is ludicrous

    For starters, it’s pretty absurd that I’m actually writing a post on why recess is necessary. Isn’t it obvious that it’s necessary? Turns out, it’s not. 40 percent of school districts in the US have reduced recess time and nearly 7 percent of school districts have eliminated recess altogether.

    As someone who makes an effort to incorporate playfulness into my own workday routine, I am very concerned about the unwarranted squeeze on recess. The thought of little kids, who should be tearing through the playground, spending all day at school being chained to a desk is scary.

    When are folks going to realize that recess offers much more than a chance for kids to work up a sweat? It benefits every aspect of childhood development and leads to better behavior and grades. So the fact that it’s being taken away from children as a punishment for bad behavior or to increase focus on academics is mind-boggling.

    Recess is the one time a day when kids go outside and are able to choose what they do. It is important for kids and big kids alike to take breaks and do things that someone else isn’t telling us to do. Do you remember the math class or homework from seventh grade? Probably not. But you’re much more likely to have fond memories of the made-up game that you and friends played for days together on the playground.

    Kids have big imaginations and we need to give them the space to utilize it! Demanding that they move less and sit more is counterproductive. Research, and our own common sense, tells us that we should be doing the opposite.

    Does your child get enough recess?

  • What kids need from adults?

    You might think kids today have it good – endless amounts of information at their fingertips, devices to occupy their time, emojis so they can talk in code to their friends and almost no one has to walk to school anymore.

    But you know what I think? Being a kid today is hard. Think about it. Most kids and teenagers have boatloads of homework, but before they can tackle that work, they have to take a music lesson and go to soccer practice. Some kids even have scheduled play dates. But what about just letting loose and having time for free play? That, my friends, is why being a kid today is hard. There is too little time to relax and be carefree – and really important aspects of development happen when adults back off and let kids explore through unstructured play.

    Honestly, every time I speak to an adult about early child development and developing all sorts of skills, I’m left thoroughly confused. Folks want their kids to be quick learners but don’t want them to spend time doing stuff (read: playing) that might actually benefit them. The general thinking is that play and learning are two separate things, which, in my mind, is nothing short of crazy. Or, as I believe the kids are saying, cray cray.

    For me, the issue of play is serious and this conversation with Erika Christakis struck a chord.

    Her new book, The Importance of Being Little, is a plea for adults - educators and parents alike -  to forgo the mind numbing flashcards, old school worksheets and teaching Mandarin to preschoolers in favor of good old-fashioned play (um, when did play become old-fashioned and can we please change this?).

    Christakis writes, "the distinction between early education and official school seems to be disappearing."

    Why can’t more people get on this page and forget the widely accepted norms? I often wonder why we’re complicating things so much when the answer’s really quite simple. Let your kids play!

    What kids really need right now is for adults to start acting. We need to stop forcing them into so called “meaningful” activities when all they really need to (and want to) do is to play in the mud or roll in the grass. Want to explain the theory of gravity? Don’t just have them read about it in a musty textbook. Go to the playground and have them drop several objects from different heights of playground structures. Above all, make sure you work towards creating relevant and rich play experiences that foster a sense of security and emotional well-being among your kids.

    Stop looking at play as an option; make play a priority!

  • Homework can wait, childhood will not

    Sasha Brown-Worsham is a writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Runner's World, Cosmopolitan, Parents and countless other magazines and newspapers. She is currently an editor at She Knows Media and mom to three kids, 9, 7, and 2. She and her family live outside New York City. She was inspired to write this after an elementary school in her community banned homework for younger kids.

    It’s 7 o’clock at night and my children are winding down for the evening. As we take the (long, torturous) walk toward the bedtime routine — bath, teeth brushing, kisses, reading — I hold my breath knowing that this day, like every day, I will put my kids to bed feeling incomplete. Yet again, despite my best efforts, my third and second graders will go to bed without having completed every bit of their homework. Our agreement is 45 minutes in their room with their books open. After that, they can stop. Sadly, that often leaves a lot undone. It’s a lot of misery. Every. Damn. Night. We are not alone.

    As elementary school becomes more and more academically challenging, play is becoming obsolete. In New Jersey, my home state, Governor Chris Christie recently vetoed a bill that would have made 20 minutes of recess mandatory in elementary schools. It’s insane. Anecdotally, friends report total homework meltdowns night after night. And in my house, it is no different. We have a rhythm to our evening and homework is part of it, but the feeling of never really hitting the mark, never getting it all finished, ruins what should be otherwise lovely nights.

    Last week, I’d finally had enough. It was the first week of spring weather after a cold winter and when my kids came home on Tuesday night, their backpacks laden with worksheets, books, and spelling homework, I declared a moratorium on homework. At least for a couple days.

    “Let’s go to the park,” I told them. We packed the toddler into her wagon and alternated between pulling her and letting her pull her way the five or so blocks to the park. My kids threw balls, they climbed to the top of the equipment, they went down the slides, and played tag. By the time we came home, dirty, sweaty, and tired, they were ready for a family dinner and reading before bedtime. It was the perfect night. If only every night could be like that.

    Living in the Northeast, we obviously can’t promise sunshine and 70 degrees every night of the week. But we can promise play. We can return to the days of tag after school ends and ghosts in the graveyard and tying our wagons to bikes and hoping they don’t flip. “Play is the highest form of research,” Albert Einstein once said. And I see it with my own eyes.

    It is through play that my children build their imaginations. That chair in the backyard? Cover it with a blanket and it’s a secret hideout for the kids when they go on spy missions. The swingset in the backyard has swings, a playhouse, and rings, but in kid-speak they could be rocket ships to the moon, a pirate ship, and a path to Olympic glory. They hula hoop and ride bikes, they toss balls into baskets and stomp rockets high into the trees, they turn cartwheels through the grass, and laugh as they tumble to the ground. Every single one of these activities is more important to their growth and education than a math worksheet could ever hope to be.

    So why are we insisting on loading our kids down with busy work?

    “It teaches responsibility,” one father said during a debate among some of my parent friends. But does it? As far as I can tell, the only thing homework teaches my kids is that mommy is crazy and yells a lot. And when I do yell, I am not doing it because I think they are wasting  an intellectual opportunity or not living up to their academic potential. I am doing so because I don’t want to get shamed by the teacher. I dread notes from the teacher in regards to the performance of my own children far more than I did notes about my own when I was in school. I cringe at the thought of looks from other parents whose children are on top of their homework. So I force my kids through the exercise every night even though I know logically, based on extensive research, that I am doing nothing but loading them down with facts they will forget in two years once they have also earned themselves a healthy hatred of school and the system that has made it so ridiculous.

    This is no way to live.

    My children are 9 and 7 and they spend 6.5 hours of their day in school. They get 20 minutes of outdoor time. If it’s not raining or cold. To send them home to do more indoor busy work seems criminal. They should be exploring their bodies, moving, playing, and reading. They should be eating slow family dinners and running around with friends, imagining their future.

    They have plenty of paperwork to look forward to. Taxes. Bills. Applications for mortgages. Applications for schools and camps. It’s all coming soon enough. For now, let’s let them play until they are dirty and tired. Let’s let them imagine their futures as pirates and fairies and doctors and engineers. Let’s let them build and read and have a couple hours of freedom. Childhood is brief and fleeting. It is a fraction of a total lifetime. And yet, it is the foundation on which an entire future is based.

    Adulthood comes soon enough. While they are still young, let’s let them laugh and imagine and play themselves to exhaustion.

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