Remember school recess? That block of time reserved for nothing but play: jumping rope, shooting hoops, mastering the jungle gym and hanging out with your friends on the blacktop?
Add recess to the list of activities today’s parents enjoyed when they were kids but today’s children are, in many cases, denied. Forty percent of elementary schools nationwide have either eliminated or cut back recess time, according to the American Association for the Child’s Right to Play. They attribute this largely to the No Child Left Behind act, which emphasizes testing scores.
Union Rules Ensure Breaks For Workers, But Children Are Losing Out
Ironically, while union rules for many adult workers across the country require a minimum 15 minutes of break time for every four hours of work, and a half-hour for lunch in an eight-hour day, children, it seems, are losing the right to their own breaks.
Children’s free playtime has dropped over the years, replaced by structured activities and screen time, including television and computer use , studies suggest. A 2010 report by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 8-18 year-olds devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes to using entertainment media across a typical day (more than 53 hours a week). And because they spend so much of that time ‘media multitasking’ (using more than one medium at a time), they actually manage to pack a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes (10:45) worth of media content into those 7½ hours.
Unstructured Playtime Is Vanishing
At the same time, unstructured childhood time is vanishing. A pair of University of Maryland studies of children’s time use found that in 1981, kids ages 6 to 12 had about 57 hours of free time per week. By 2003, kids had only 48 hours in which to choose their own activities. Time spent outdoors was especially hard-hit.
An overall decrease in playtime in even young children is resulting in kids who don’t have a “culture of play,” said Jill Vialet, the founder of Playworks, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the climate of play in schools, teaching kids the kinds of games they would have once learned from older peers.
The result, experts say, is children who come into school without good play skills. Used to regimented activities, these kids may struggle with the give-and-take of playground games, said Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, a psychologist at Temple University. That’s not a natural state, she told LiveScience.
“If kids were left to have some time on their own, they would in fact develop play ,” Hirsh-Pasek said. “Now what we do is, we endanger the species by taking play opportunities away from them.”
Even A 15-Minute Break Is Good
The reality is that children need that oxygen in their brains to get thinking! And there’s a growing body of research that finds that even a 15-minute break enhances a child’s ability to learn.
Ironically, while the push for less recess is often driven by the need to drill kids for standardized tests, the truth is that those students will do better on their tests if they are allowed to take a break, and run around a little. As I document in my book, Get Out! 150 Easy Ways for Kids and Grown-Ups to Get Into Nature and Build a Greener Future, a number of recent studies show that playing outside, and being exposed to nature, can improve memory, concentration and school grades. And of course there are many other good reasons for children to enjoy playing outside.
Let the children play!