This September after Labor Day while you all were teaching procedures, practicing them with your kids, and doing the exhausting work of starting a school year right, I admit that I was on the first “fall-cation” I have ever had in my lifetime. My wife Dawn who is an educator decided to “rewire” last Spring, so we planned an RV “glamping” adventure hitting as many of the Michigan State Parks traveling the perimeter of our Great Lake State!
We had beautiful weather and had an incredible time of course, but I am writing to you about what I observed as I watched children and their parents at campgrounds. Was I impressed! Kids were playing! Not just biking and hiking, but creatively playing games they made up together, investigating nature and getting up close and personal to the best Mother Nature has to offer. The best thing was, I never saw a kid with a technology device!
I also observed involved, attentive parents and I had my eyes and ears open and on dads. I saw so many dads spending quality time with their little ones. Taking them down to the water, checking out the stars at night, just walking and talking hand and hand. Okay, I admit, I just walked my daughter down the aisle a year ago and I probably was a little nostalgic. But, I did go up to one dad that I observed and complimented him on the time he was spending with his daughter talking to her, observing things and just listening. I told him to stay present and enjoy every second as the time goes by so fast, as you all know!
A recent Los Angeles Times article by Melissa Healy captured the dilemma we face for not carving out time for kids to play. Most recent statistics show that children are spending over 2 ½ hours each day on a technology type device. Increased academic pressures have left over 30% of kindergartens without any recess. In 2013, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement on the “crucial role of recess in schools.” A consortium of educators, health professionals and early childhood advocates in a report titled “Crisis in the Kindergarten” called the loss of play for young ones, “a tragedy, both for the children themselves and for our nation and world.” A 2009 report from the Alliance for Childhood said, “Young kids in play-based kindergartens end up equally good or better at reading and other intellectual skills, and they are more likely to become well-adjusted healthy people.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics report declares that play is critical to children’s health and mental development. Harvard Medical School pediatrician, Dr. Michael Yogman states, “Whether it’s rough and tumble physical play, outdoor play or social or pretend play, kids derive important lessons from the chance to make things up as they go.” The pediatric report states that, “Play is not frivolous, it nurtures children’s ingenuity, cooperation and problem solving skills. Collaboration, negotiation, conflict resolution, self-advocacy, decision-making, a sense of agency, creativity, leadership, and increased physical activity are just some of the skills and benefits children gain through play.” Aren’t these the character traits and skills we are trying to nurture in our children for the future as they become career and college ready in the 21st century?
The academy goes on to say that when parents engage in play with their children, it deepens relationships and builds a bulwark against the toxic effects of all kinds of stress, including poverty. The decline of play is a special hazard for the roughly 1 in 5 children in the United States who live in poverty. These 14 million children need to develop the resilience that is nurtured with play. Instead, Harvard pediatrician, Yogman said, “they are disproportionately affected by some of the trends that are making play scarce, academic pressures at schools that need to improve test scores, outside play areas that are limited or unsafe, and parents who lack the time or energy to share in playtime.”
In large cities across the country, a program called Learning Landscapes has helped transform urban areas into active playscapes for children at places they frequent. At a bus stop in Philadelphia, on sidewalks in San Francisco, and in neighborhoods of Chicago, the initiative led by Temple University psychologist Kathy Hirsh-Pasek has installed giant movable blocks, lifesize human board games, and lights that invite a spontaneous game of hopscotch.
Need some more evidence about the importance of recess and play? Here are some bullet points gleaned from a Washington Post source that list some benefits children can gain from spending playtime outdoors:
- Better school performance. Time spent in nature and increased fitness improve cognitive function.
- More creativity. Outdoor play uses and nurtures the imagination.
- Much higher levels of fitness. Kids are more active when they are outdoors.
- More friends. Children who organize their own games and participate in unstructured group activities are less solitary and learn to interact with their peers.
- Less depression and hyperactivity. Time in nature is soothing, improves mood and reduces stress. It can also increase kids’ attention span, because things move at a slower pace than they do on the screen.
- Stronger bones. Exposure to natural light helps prevent vitamin D deficiency, making outdoorsy children less vulnerable to bone problems, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other health issues.
- Improved eyesight. Time spent outdoors can help combat increasing diagnoses of nearsightedness.
- Better sleep. Exposure to natural light, and lots of physical activity, help reset a child’s natural sleep rhythms.
- A longer life span and healthier adult life. Active kids are more likely to grow into active adults.
This summer at the NAESP National Principals Conference, Daniel Pink shared from his book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing information about how we underestimate the power of breaks. We as humans perform better after taking a break. One research study found that judges are more lenient on sentencing after taking a break. He told the principals in the room about the importance of recess and especially about taking breaks before any kind of test-taking activity! Here are his five tips about breaks:
1. Something beats nothing.
2. Moving beats stationary.
3. Social beats solo.
4. Outside beats inside.
5. Fully detached beats semi-detached.
We are advocates for the children in our care. How are you ensuring that the children in your care are creatively nurturing their ability to grow and learn through play?