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2nd-grade teacher is a believer in “brain breaks." When she senses the need for movement or
change, she sets them on a different course for a few minutes. They dance, meditate, stretch and move their bodies in creative ways to break up the monotony of sitting and
learning. My daughter loves these breaks
from reality, and she comes home itching to tell me about them.
I know that she
is one of the lucky ones. In many public
schools across America, kids sit for hours at a time with very little movement of any kind, never mind haphazard “brain breaks” when the
going gets tough — which is a shame because movement and play, even in small amounts, can rejuvenate kids
and help them thrive.
We often hear
about the benefits of frequent classroom breaks as seen in the Finnish school
system. In Finland, kids enjoy shorter
school days and are given 15-minute breaks outside following every 45 minutes
of instruction. In an article that appeared in The Atlantic, one teacher found that, while this system appears to
help kids focus during lessons, the majority of students in Finland weren't choosing to spend their breaks playing or being active. Instead, they preferred to spend the time sitting, tapping on phones or just chatting.
In America, we
deprive kids of the opportunity for free play in an effort to work harder and
learn more. In Finland, they allow for
plenty of free play, and yet the kids sit around waiting to be called back to
their classes. What gives?
What we have
here is a crisis. Kids lack the ability
to play independently.
Not only has recess seen cuts in recent years, but many students go to school without physical education, art, and music as well.
Some schools in
Finland are using “recess activators,” older students paired with younger
students to help start fun games during their outside breaks. Is this what childhood has come to? Do kids need play mentors to remind them how
to get out and play?
It might seem
like play is simply a way to fill a few hours, but the truth is that it has numerous benefits. Through play,
children learn to cope with frustration, relate to others, build meaningful
relationships, understand the world around them, problem solve, practice new
skills and learn to take risks. Regular physical play can also fend off obesity, improve mental health (lower risk of symptoms of depression and
anxiety), improve cardiovascular health and aid in memory and
Not only is free
play the business of childhood, but play is also crucial to the healthy
development of children. It’s time to
take back the free play.
We can choose to reduce the stress our children face each day by making time for unstructured play every single day of the week.
Why do today's kids seem to lack the ability to get down to the business of play? Some will point to the rise in technology. Kids are plugged in and checked out more
often than in decades past. Others will
blame longer school days with less unstructured time. Not only has recess seen cuts in recent
years, but many students go to school without physical education, art and
music as well. An increased amount of homework means less unstructured playtime for kids in the after-school hours. And then there’s that pesky little problem of
over-scheduling. Children are now
enrolled in organized sports and other highly structured activities at a younger age than ever before. That, too, takes away from play.
Is there one
direct cause for lack of play skills across the board? Of course not. We all come from different backgrounds with
different stressors and different needs. That’s why we all need to step up and take back the free play for our
We can’t control
what happens behind the walls of the school, but we can make time for free play
at home. We can help our children
re-learn the power of play by putting down our distractions and interacting with
them. We can resist the urge to enroll
in every sport, camp or art class that looks interesting, and allow them to
play tag with friends and paint at home instead. We can make small changes at home that lead
to big benefits at school, in the community and beyond.
We can choose to
reduce the stress our children face each day by making time for unstructured
play every single day of the week. When we give our
children the gift of play, we set them up for a better future. Make time for childhood. Make time for play.