Play or lack thereof......

About a year ago, I took lil O and my niece, AB to AB's school's playground when her school was closed.  AB was soooo excited to play on her school's playground because she could runRun?  "What are you talking about AB?  You can't run on your playground during school hours?"  Indeed, that was accurate.  AB and the other 400 elementary school students were banned from running on the playground during school hours. 


At the moment, I wanted to cry.  The epidemic of non-physical activity on playgrounds  - like running, jumping and climbing - was hitting too close to home.  Why build playgrounds if children cannot play?  Oh wait, they can play - it's just "restrictive" play.  Ugh.

There is a troubling issue in the United States. Outside play time, recess and physical education in the majority of public K-12 schools is diminishing.  On top of that fact, the quality of those play experiences is decreasing. 

According to this report, the average elementary school student is allotted 24-30 minutes of recess a day down from an average 37 minutes reported in 2008.  Sure seven minutes doesn't sound like a lot, but 7 minutes x 5 school days a week = Our children just lost an entire period of recess (1 lost day a week x 36 weeks of school = A month-lose of recess).  By the way, the statistics get more dismal in urban, high minority and high poverty school.  In fact, a large percentage of children in those schools do not get recess at all! 

What is the "right" amount of physical activity for our kids in our schools?  The National Association for Sport and Physical Education recommends roughly 30 minutes of day of PE for elementary-aged students and 20 minutes a day of recess.  Are the children you know getting that daily - 50 minutes of physical activity and play?  All my soccer mom readers are shaking their heads, yes.  What about the rest of you?

More important, however, than the amount of minutes for recess/PE/play is the quality of these experiences.  If a child cannot run, jump or climb during recess or on a playground, what can they do?

Here are some simple strategies to help children obtain more quality, physical activity both in-school and at home:
  • Make it enjoyable and welcoming.  This article has several good examples including turning a high school weight room into a "fitness club."
  • Encourage parents and families to supplement recess and PE by providing more outdoor play opportunities at home.
  • For educators, provide the highest "duty of care" when out on the playground to prevent unreasonable risk of injury.
  • This study found that children's physical activity increased when game equipment was also available during play.
Though I appreciate one university's unique tactic of withholding the diploma of an overweight student until the (overweight) student completes a one-credit college course, "Fitness for Life,"  I just don't want to wait until our preK-12 students are obese to begin encouraging them to be active.

Let's start now and reintroduce quality, play opportunities for kids.

What do you think?

Jen

16 comments:

  1. So interesting that you posted this today. On Monday I attended a "recess volunteer" meeting at S's school for parents to want to help at lunch and recess. After going over several rules, we walked out on the playground with the principal- She then spent the next 20 minutes telling us all the rules of the playground- no running on the mulch, no running on the equipment, no swinging on the bars on the equipment, no walking along the edge of the mulch like a balance beam, etc. I came home and told Chris that S wasn't allowed to have any fun!

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  2. That's really sad becuase in elementary getting the bumps and bruises is the fun of recess. But I do remember them telling us we couldn't play tag and some other games becuase we might get hurt. It sounds to me schools are afraid of being sued.

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  3. Yikes! Kids need to run and play--even during the school day! If schools provide guidelines for students to be safe and have fun, there's no reason to eliminate running (or in some schools tag). We need to stand up to the fear and make running possible at school. I work for a non-profit that helps schools provide play and physical activity throughout the school day. Here are a few tips for AB's school to help re-instate the fun for her and her classmates: http://www.playworks.org/blog/you-school-recess-ready

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  4. Bree - You tasted reality on Monday, didn't you? It doesn't sound so "fun" nor helpful to kids' development. Oh, play.

    Jamie - Yes, the threat of lawsuits is a giant factor in this sad, dismal, decline of play.

    Beth - I will visit your Playworks link next! Thanks for sharing.

    Jen

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  5. Beth - What a lovely organization! Playworks! I am soooo impressed. Fabulous Upcyclists, visit Beth's organization for more: http://www.playworks.org

    Jen

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  6. Thanks, Jen! So glad you like it. Sometimes I feel that educator get lost in results and forget about the children. We need to use common sense with our children first, and play and physical activity are certainly a must.

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  7. I love this blog post. I actually just did an assignment in another class about playground safety, so it is interesting to me to hear both sides. I agree that children should be aloud to run and play! Doing this makes them much more attentive in class, and it makes them healthier students (a goal for all educators right?). Do where do you draw the line between safety and health and whats better for these kids? I wish I knew. Its sad that a classroom teacher does not have much say on school rules, but we do on classroom rules. I think if we can incorporate movement into everyday lessons, like when you transition from one subject to another play a song and let them move and dance so they can get ready for the next subject! Children need to move and use there imaginations, I hope we can find a way keep the kids healthy and safe.

    -Brianne Carper

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  8. Other than contributing to obesity, I believe a child learns through play. He/she learns social skills, leadership skills, and teamwork. Running and playing enhances large motor skills, balance and coordination. Imaginary play stimulates creativity. Mostly playing offers that much needed break between classes and allows the student's mind to be fresh when it is time to reenter the classroom to learn the next lesson.

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  9. I must say I lost my train of thought so let me clarify. Lack of play contributes to obesity. Schools are coming up with all kinds of anti-obesity campaigns and taking away the one proven more effective-play.

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  10. Recess is so hugely important to kids. In addition to the fresh air, exercise, and, the motor skills it requires, kids need the social experience. Children learn so much about peer relationships when they are playing together. Problem solving, trust, patience. I would never take recess from a student as punishment for anything, they need to move. I would stand on a playground in freezing temperatures, just to let kids get out there and get moving.

    Meredith L.

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  11. The statistics are so sad! As infants children learn just about everything through play and then we take the opportunity for play away later?! For elementary school students they are in Erikson's early stages and play is critical to their development. All children need time to let off steam and interact with their peers. At this age they are still building their gross motor skills and need time to do what their bodies are naturally designed to do like running and jumping.

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  12. This subject really riles me up. Children NEED play. They need to play as much as they need to eat and sleep. Playing is the major way that kids learn. It also helps to keep them healthy in the long run. And as much as we may not like to admit it, kids learn from getting hurt while they play as well. As many times that we might tell them "Don't do that, you'll fall," the message probably will not register until they actually fall and hurt themselves. As for schools being afraid of being sued and making all of these rules to protect both themselves and the kids, 85% of playground injuries are so minor that the most they require is some Neosporen and a bandage. We should still do what we can to prevent serious injury, but not by sabotaging the rest of the kids.
    Jackie H.

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  13. Nicole Revels

    Play is not just important for the fitness aspects, but also to the development of cognitive, linguistic, and social skills. Children learn how to play cooperatively with other children, building their understanding of social cues and acceptable social behaviors. The use of pretend play helps to build their understanding and extend through social profiling and reenactment of what they have observed. They are using abstract thinking and creativity, which makes them more flexible during learning processes.

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  14. Unfortunately, gradually diminishing recess and physical activity during the school day is becoming an increasing fad in the educational world. As Nicole Revels said "children learn to play cooperatively" along with "building their understand of social cues and acceptable social behaviors." This could work wonders for a child on the Autism Spectrum, those of whom frequently have issues communicating, socializing, and maintaing relationships with others; the playground could be a perfect place to work on improving these issues subconsciously. "Play" is a very natural activity for children and where they are very at ease and comfortable with their surroundings. Not to mention those students with ADHD who will be able to "work out" their energy.
    *Carrie S

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  15. Social skills are being affected by the lack of play. In the classroom, students don’t have much time to socialize. Most conversations revolve around the lesson they are learning. Playtime gives students the opportunity to learn what they have in common with their classmates and opportunities to relate to each other.
    Patricia L.

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  16. I am sooo loving the passion around this post. Keep it up, kindred spirits.

    :)
    Jen

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