Play skills are even more important than you think

Feb 19, 2014 by

Play skills are even more important than you think

Several years ago I wrote an article on the importance of play. My slant on the article was more about the importance of learning (or lack of learning) social skills, initiation of interactions and negotiation during play. This week I noted a topic hitting the educational sites on the internet about kids doing better when they get more exercise. The articles were based on a Canadian study called “School-Based Health Promotion and Physical Activity During and After School Hours” that was published in Pediatrics Journal. Now the study itself isn’t that eye opening. It basically states that the school initiatives to promote better health in Canada has worked to get kids moving both in and out of school. All I can say is that it is just too bad that time and money is wasted on something that parents, teachers, doctors and just about anyone else on the planet has known for years. Exercise and other physical activity is good for kids. But in this world of data, data, data it is good press.

In my article “Play skills are more important than you think” I stated,

“If you think kids are getting an opportunity to play at school, think again. Recess and lunch recess is 15 minutes at best these days. Hardly enough time to organize and play anything. Once kids get to middle school, there may be no recess or lunch recess.”

Over my almost 50 years as a student and a teacher, I’ve seen lunch time shrink, lunch recess shrink, extra outdoor recess go away, every free moment disappear from the classroom and gym/art/music cut back (significantly). I’ve also seen the amount of snacking increase, over processed foods sent in for lunch and school lunches reduced to dehydrated unappealing muck served on styrofoam trays that could hardly be called a meal (and quite a bit of it ends up in the trash FYI). With all the school health initiatives here in the United States, all fun activities and celebrations are now food free. Talk about sucking the fun out of everything but that’s a topic for another article.

There was a time when kids were given enough time to eat and play during lunch. Lunch Ladies would make sure you ate what your mom sent in or what you got on your tray but you managed your own time. When you were done eating you could go out. Very few school had play structures, so kids spent their time usually on the black top (parking lot). Guess what, in some schools not everyone stayed for lunch. Students who lived close to school had time to walk home, eat lunch, watch a little tv and walk back to school. Both these scenarios gave students choices and taught students how managed their time from an early age.

Lunch recess lasted as long as an hour in some cases. Kids returning from their home lunch experience would often join in. Rarely did you see a kid standing around doing nothing. Schools provided a variety of simple playground equipment balls, chalk to draw a 4 square and jump ropes. Students could be counted on to organize kickball games, dodgeball games, 4 square games and handball games. Today it is a little pathetic to watch recess because kids don’t know how to organize games and many float around the play area not knowing what to do.

Do kids return to the classroom better able to focus and learn after a longer play time? I would assume so but of course I don’t have any data on that. What I do know for a fact is that kids were thinner and probably in better shape. I know where I grew up not too many kids were taking dance or gymnastics. Organized sports didn’t start until about 6 grade so the exercise we got was from playing. We played at school and we played in the neighborhood. We slurped down regular Coke and Pepsi like water. There was a candy store on every corner and we all indulged. There were several ice cream venues and the good humor man came by regularly. How did we stay so thin, exercise. What a surprise, movement and activity kept us thin. We didn’t even know it was exercise!

What schools could do:
Bring back the cooks and have meals actually prepared at the school.
Add more lunch room attendants so kids can go out when they are finished eating
Provide longer lunch times in general
Add extra recess, especially in warmer weather
Provide appropriate play equipment that must be taken care of and shared
Consult with the physical education teachers on how to teach kids the art of organizing games
Hire lunch room attendants who will encourage students to organize games.


Related Articles
Kids Improve with School-Based Physical Activity Interventions  By: NeuroNet
StudentsWho Lose Recess Are the Ones Who Need It Most  By JESSICA LAHEY




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1 Comment

  1. Teresa Sadowski MA/SLP-ccc

    Think about this for a minute….While it might be personality and confidence but have you noticed how articulate and witty most of our American Athletes have been during their interviews. Keep in mind these are people who have exercised and moved their whole lives…..just saying

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