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?