Recess Rescue: Why Play Time Should Be Written Into The Students' Bill Of Rights

Source: ASIDE 2016

As our nation’s children head to back to the classroom, many schools find themselves trying to rein in kids’ summer impulses. Strict conduct policies are emphasizing rules and enforcing straight lines on students who are used to gamboling in backyards and lolling for hours.

Many Scandinavian countries, most brain science, and all veteran teachers would encourage the exact opposite. They would argue that instead of limiting play, educators should expand the amount of free time dedicated to socialization and creativity. Imagination itself is not learned, but it can be unlearned due to the drone of worksheets and mandates.

Source: ASIDE 2016

While many schools nationwide are reducing free play opportunities, our neighboring Patchogue-Medford district here on Long Island has actually doubled recess time from 20 to 40 minutes. In fact, a few Texas and Oklahoma schools now schedule recess four times a day. These changes are not capricious; they are part of studies such as the LiiNK Project, which has found that physical activity increases students' emotional well-being and reduces instances of bullying and stress. The American Academy of Pediatrics supports these findings with its seminal white paper about "The Crucial Role Of Recess In School."

Across the board, students, teachers, parents, administrators, kinesiologists, therapists, and test graders are all witnessing the positive outcomes of enhanced play time. The scientist Jaak Panksepp has devoted a career of research to answering two pivotal questions: Where in the brain does play come from? And is it a learned activity, or is it a basic function?

Source: ASIDE 2016

NPR has highlighted Panksepp’s studies, showcasing that play is deep and instinctive, shared across mammals, and integral to survival. Important social skills stem from play, in testing interactions, probing limits, and navigating hierarchies. In other words, play is primitive, the natural outcome of time and trust.

Children need this unstructured time to make mistakes and develop friendships on their own terms. The arena of the soccer field or the sand box is ideal in nurturing successful adults. Recess is not a privilege. It should not be an afterthought. It should instead be written into the students’ Bill Of Rights.

Source: KOIN

Otherwise, what are our playgrounds? Are they monuments to eras past? Are they the still testaments to the naivety of earlier generations? Are they just another hallmark of the sped-up modern day, the never-enough-time-for day, when the things we wish for are just that — wishes?

For other ideas about the importance of play, we recommend: