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Back to Basics: All of us Need Play and Recess
Play has been a standard part of children’s lives until recently. We never questioned that children needed and wanted to play, but sadly our current academic culture has turned it’s back on free play and recess. 40% of our country’s children now do not have recess and many, many millions of other kids have far less than they need in order to grow and develop into happy, healthy well rounded people.
Free play is now considered something radical in our culture. In a time when our kids lives have been engulfed with everything but play, it seems so simple to say, “Just let them play.” Yet this is what I am advocating for today and what millions of parents are waking up to realize.
There is a movement afoot to bring back the play time our grandmother’s advocated for. In a simpler time, a time before Wii, social networking and texting, kids were expected to play and they were told to “Go outside and play.” Mothers shouted it from every back door and front door coast to coast. “Get outside and play!” Now this idea and lifestyle seems radical to us. Yet, what evidence do we have that taking play away is going to benefit our kids? Play time is just as valuable now as it was then.
This is a back to basics approach to child rearing. It’s not new or inventive. It falls in line with what we all know to be good parenting. For generations kids were raised this way. Why change now?
All of us need play and recess. As adults it looks different. Maybe we take a trip to the movies or go out for coffee with our friends. This is our recess. It is a time when we can rest from the responsibilities of our lives. At school children are cast in the role of student and these days there are a lot of responsibilities that go along with being a student. Recess is a time for kids to set aside the student role and just be kids.
Up until recently recess has afforded children this free time, a break from the onslaught of academics that they now face, even as young as kindergarten. Now it seems that in a flurry of budget cuts and standardized testing, play has been axed, but at what cost?
The research says pretty clearly that breaks are good for kids. Recess helps kids absorb more information. Recess gives kids a chance to develop important social skills. Recess allows them to practice making choices about what they want to do. Sometimes that means playing ball or jumping rope or swinging. For other kids it may mean sitting quietly or talking with just one close friend. The important thing is that it is their choice. Free play isn’t playtime directed by adults. It is a time filled with child led activities. Many schools do have Physical Education classes for children and this does provide kids a chance to run around and burn off some energy, but this is still instructional time led by a teacher. Kids need recess in addition to P.E.
We don’t have to buy anything or change our lives drastically to begin right now to include more play in the lives our children. Play is free. There are no expensive toys required, just good old fashioned fun and imagination. Now, isn’t that refreshing? All over the country I hear about parents opening doors and letting their kids roam the neighborhood again and ride bike with friends. Parents are reclaiming the world for their children. And these parents aren’t radical people. They are everyday people who are tired of being held captive in a culture that dismisses play. Organizations advocating for play like Playworks, which helps children organize games and learn proper social interactions on the playground, and KaBoom, which builds playgrounds all over the country, are helping unite communities in play. Parents all over the nation are organizing themselves to bring recess back to their schools. I’ve heard from parents from Texas, Chicago, New York and Georgia and I am sure there are more. There is probably a group of concerned parents right in your community. Today is the day to find out because play is that important. If there isn’t a group started yet, start one. Join the movement and bring play back into your community.
Meg Rosker is wife, mother of three, former public school teacher and play advocate. She blogs at Let Children Play.com.