Can We Play in School?

Spring has arrived in full bloom here in Texas, and with the beautiful weather, I am gratefully reminded of how enjoyable it is to see our kids play. Here at Shady Oak Learning, we take play seriously. It is embedded in our school day. Children who come here have about an hour and a half of free play time outdoors throughout the day. Why? Because research supports that play is an essential part of brain growth and behavior development. Children who move and play show significant increase in IQ.

According to David Elkind, professor emeritus of child development at Tufts University and author of The Power of Play, children spend 50% less time out doors than they did in the late 90’s while passive leisure, such as watching television and playing electronics, has increased dramatically. Research especially shows that the kind of play that promotes sociodramatic play, where children participate in make-believe activities, can increase children’s success in school.

When we found the spot for our current school, one of the requirements was that there was a play space big enough for our kids to run and play. Fortunately, we walk to a neighborhood park a half a block away. I was concerned at first that there was no playground equipment; it was just an open space with trees and a sidewalk surrounding it. I have been fascinated with the play activities the children have come up with, such as making castles with princess and knights, cops and robbers, and, of course, cowboys and Indians. Sometimes I observe them just running laps or walking and talking around the park, or other times sitting quietly gathering acorns or writing with sticks in the dirt. We do not structure or mandate their play, and for the most part we let them resolve their differences. This allows children to develop imagination and creativity, problem solving, and social skills.

In addition, children’s engagement increases when play is part of their academics. Acting out stories, leaning math facts through games, and using art and music as part of learning are all ways to increase students’ interest and motivation. During a recent novel study, our kids dressed up as characters in the book they were reading and recreated the party that happened at the end of the book. For even our reluctant/struggling readers, Literature is their favorite class!

In a private school setting, we have the freedom to encourage play while many in a pubic school situation are restricted because of increased time devoted to testing and pressure to raise standards. However, there is hope! Many are sounding the warning bell that lack of recess is hurting our kids and offering solutions. Organizations such as Dr. Debbie Rhea’s Liink project and Playworks  are offering programs to encourage schools to get children outside and playing.

Spring is here and what a great time to take your child to play!

written by: Pam Jarvis

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