The Virtue of Recess – Unstructured Play, Cognition & Child Development
Recess is a historical staple of elementary education in America and it is still not uncommon to see children granted small amounts of time for “free play” or educational games in the primary grades. Unfortunately, this practice is under fire in recent years. Some critics of public education or politicians would prefer to see that time devoted to increased amounts of formal, skill-drill exercises; but aside from the fact that test-prep activities quickly hit the point of diminishing returns in terms raising a school district’s aggregate mean test scores ( a little is good, a lot is not) the so-called ” wasted free time”, is actually neurologically vital for the optimum cognitive development of children’s brains. It’s good for us older folks too but that’s a topic for another day.
A report from the excellent Eide Neurolearning Blog:
“Several recent articles remind us of the importance of play. From NPR, Old-fashioned play builds serious skills, and NYT, Taking Play Seriously.Also from the American Academy of Pediatrics (The Importance of Play for Health Child Development pdf : “Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. Play is important to health brain development…Undirected play allows children to learn how to work in groups, to share, to negotiate, to resolve conflicts, an to learn self-advocacy skills.” An increased in hurried lifestyles and school-based academic performance may leave a child with little unstructured time. In one survey by the National Association of Elementary School Principals, 30% of kindergarten classes no longer had recess periods
….An additional point made in the NYT article, was the importance of play for the development of the cerebellum. For kids with sensory processing disorders, this is a big one. Sometimes the earliest indication that something isn’t “quite right” is when a child avoids the normal rough-and-tumble play on the playground. That’s why without intervention, a child may accumulate even fewer play experiences and fall even farther behind their classmates with time.”
Read the rest and find additional brain-learning resources here.
While older students do not have “recess”, time for creative, exploratory and imaginative learning activities should be a regular aspect of core academic classses! !!
The chance to “play” with concepts, solve puzzling scenarios, smash ideas up in a synthesis, articulate new or unorthodox solutions to old problems is a teaching strategy for students to arrive at a deeper understanding of the subject at hand. It trains them to create and evaluate analogies, test the logical soundness of each other’s ideas, debate and experiment. Less structured but goal-directed time is a valuable investment as independent thinking cannot be cultivated in a classroom where every moment is direct instruction and rigidly scripted. At some point, the training wheels have to come off if we are to discover which students can ride on their own and which ones need additional guided practice.
Furthermore, in relation to “play”, music, the arts, sports and drama play a critical role in brain growth and do not represent “frills” but a central modality for integration of concepts, application of learning and generation of insight. As subjects, they are the brain’s “Right” side exercises to the ” Left” side’s analytical-logical reasoning provided by mathematics instruction and science classes.
As a society, we have gone berserk on overscheduling children into formal activities, academic as well as extracurricular, to the point where some elementary age kids show signs of anxiety, burn-out and depession or have time with their families that is not devoted to some kind of structured, formal, event. I find that many students lack any real cognitive independence, normal childhood creativity or the ability to negotiate social interactions with peers without hands-on, adult, supervision. A kind of well-meaning, suburban, shelteredness that produces a vaguely “institutional” passivity in many children.
Our students need both structured learning as well as some degree of “space” or “freedom” in order to maximize their intellectual and emotional growth, not either-or.
ADDITIONAL LINKS on RECESS:
“Time out: Is recess in danger?” – Center for Public Education
“The Importance of Play… ” – American Association of Pediatrics
“Taking Play Seriously” – The New York Times
“Recess Makes Better Students” – The Washington Post