Some elementary schools across the nation are banning recess.
So kids can have more formal instruction time in class.
Limiting recess is just one example of what’s being done in the interest of giving teachers more time to teach. For example, we’re seeing children being introduced to formal academics earlier and earlier.
One teacher described it like this: “Kindergarten is now first grade, and first grade is now second grade.”
Kids are also coming home with more homework than in years past.
I’m all for challenging our children. It’s healthy to stretch their minds. Kids almost always can do a little more.
But the trends do make me wonder and concern me on several levels. Are we forcing our children to grow up too fast? In the interest of academic efficiency, are we robbing them of some of their childhood? Are schools making decisions in the best interest of our kids – or are they implementing changes to ensure a better ranking and higher standardized test scores?
I do want to acknowledge the challenges teachers in the classroom face on a regular basis. In fact, a relative of mine who teaches often laments that much of her time these days is spent dealing with issues outside of teaching, from discipline to bad manners and emotional distress. In essence, if home life was healthier and parents were properly parenting, there would be more time to teach in the classroom.
Yet, what’s also missing from the conversation here is the uniqueness of children and the differences between boys and girls. Sadly, school policies would suggest that girls and boys have the same learning styles and needs. It’s just not the case. Generally speaking, boys struggle to sit quietly at a desk all day. Some girls do as well. But to cancel recess is to further frustrate the physically active child.
So, what’s the impact of less playtime on children? Is less unstructured time (and more academics) really beneficial for kids? What role does play have in a child’s development?
I asked Focus on the Family’s counselors to help us understand the serious issues around playtime. Here’s what they have to say:
1. Play is important
Given the competitive nature of today’s world, it’s natural to want to give our children a head start. Yet, doing so at the sacrifice of playtime can stunt emotional, psychological and social development. Playtime is very important to children.
According to the Association for Play Therapy, play is a way for children to self-express, think creatively and explore, regulate emotions, build self-confidence, connect with others and practice skills and roles needed for survival. Ironically, play outside helps children learn and develop inside the classroom.
This is all true because there’s a lot of thought that goes into play. They explore, think, plan and use trial and error. Playing children focus on the activity and work through challenges. They communicate with others, express frustration and share ideas.
There’s also evidence that play can help prevent some of the attention issues, mood disorders and sensory processing issues we’re seeing in many children lately.
2. Healthy play looks different from competitive, organized sports
By and large, a child’s participation in organized sports can be positive for many reasons. Personally, I benefited from participating in football, and our older son now plays, too.
However, our counselors caution against counting competitive sports as playtime. Here’s why: True playtime is unrestricted. It’s imagination come to life where children get a chance to be creative, explore and move. Playtime is child-directed so the brain can go where it needs to go.
Play is very tactile in nature. It allows kids to engage body, mind and spirit in an activity that allows freedom of expression. For that reason, play can also include art, like drawing pictures or playing with molding clay. It gives children an opportunity to explore their world through toys and colors.
Counter that with a child’s experience at sports practice, where he or she is learning a skill under the direction of a coach. In a sense, that is “work” – enjoyable and beneficial, but not “play.”
3. Parents can easily facilitate play
It’s easy to encourage productive playtime for your child by making sure you’ve addressed his or her needs. For example, after school you may want to give your child a snack and have them change into comfortable clothes that can get dirty. Give them a few moments to transition and de-stress from school. Then when you let them loose on the playground, they’re ready for the serious work of playing.
As parents, we should also play with our children. The important thing to remember is playtime is child-directed, so we need to be open to doing – and enjoying – the activity our child chooses. For example, if your child wants to finger paint, try to resist the temptation to guide her into a “neater” activity. If your child wants to roughhouse in the yard, commit to getting dirty alongside him or her!
4. Play isn’t just for kids
Adults need to de-stress, too! Just like children, we benefit from silliness and play. We can’t allow ourselves to get so wrapped up in our jobs and responsibilities that we can’t take some time every day to have a little fun and laugh.
Dr. Seuss famously wrote, “It’s fun to have fun but you have to know how.” As parents, let’s learn from our children that play is a needed and important part of life. It benefits us to put down our mobile devices, turn off the news and immerse ourselves in fun activities and play!
I’m curious to know what you think about playtime. Has your child’s school moved to ban recess? Do you think our children are so overscheduled that they’re missing out on playtime? Now that you’re an adult with responsibilities, how do you enjoy yourself in your free time? Please let me know in the comments section.