As we head back into the academic school year, a lot of people are focused on education and making sure students get the best possible opportunity to learn and thrive. Here’s one easy way to support that: give them space and time for play!
Numerous academic studies [sources stored in a weird place, will update soon] on school-aged kids have demonstrated that recess time is valuable for learning and aids in the overall learning process. But I think it can be more powerful to hear how valuable it is from someone who actually lives with the results of life with more or less recess; the teachers.
Apart from being a fun activity, it is widely recognised that play is one of the most important ways in which brain development occurs in children.
Sadly, in some schools valuable recess and lunch time has been reduced in favour of more rigorous academic pursuit within the classroom. In other schools, running or ball games have been banned due to a perceived high injury risk factor.
As many families now choose structured and adult-directed play activities after school or on weekends, the school playground becomes one of a few outlets where children can engage in free outdoor play with their peers. More than 28 hours a week, often spent solitarily, are devoted to computers, mobile phones, television and other electronic devices. Considering that as much as 25 per cent of time spent at school is playground time, we need to rethink the benefits of play at school.
Conversely, a lack of play can result in challenging behaviour and negative performances in the classroom, according to an American educational psychologist, Anthony Pellegrini.
Also, playgrounds that lack play stimuli become spaces where children often wander around aimlessly, become frustrated and bully other children. Not many schools can afford expensive playground equipment, but the good news is that this is not needed anyway.
Professor Anita Bundy, from the Faculty of Health Sciences at Sydney University, has launched a large-scale study involving 12 primary schools in NSW, introducing simple, recycled play resources during recess, with outstanding results. This included crates, car tyres, foam pool noodles, plastic barrels, tarpaulins, foam cubes and other open-ended materials that lend themselves to creative, imaginary play.
Not only do children become physically more active, they also hone important social skills, build resilience and are encouraged to think creatively.