When I was a teacher, all ten of us – one teacher for each home room (K-8), and yours truly who taught 7th and 8th grade science and health, 8th grade algebra, and instrumental music – had recess duty once every other week. Kids played. It was not structured. It was not attuned to standards. It was not teacher-driven. Were there drawbacks? Sure. Skinned knees, trouser rips, bruises, tears and hurt feelings when a child was chosen last for the team he didn’t want to be on. Some schools today continue the tradition, even when the Autumn weather sets in.
Kids are energy, and that energy needs to be kinetic in nature. If not, it becomes pent up in the form of potential energy, and all kinds of unintended consequences begin to manifest themselves.
Unfortunately today, there are three huge forces at work that have taken physical “play” off table in many schools: safety, purpose and technology.
Don’t play dodgeball anymore, because someone might get hurt. In fact, don’t bring any kind of ball to school because it might go through a window. Over the past few decades, we’ve become a nation of “might” – not necessarily in reference to strength, but in reference to possibilities. While there are valid reasons for awareness, others border on the ridiculous. A child can’t bring red and green cookies to school because someone might make a connection between the cookies and Christmas…even if the cookies are in the shape of leaves and mixed among yellow and orange ones. Heaven forbid you have a bake sale today because of “Safe Food” regulations, too. If we want our kids to eat healthy foods, they also have to participate in healthy exercise. Of course, it makes sense to have a safe area for play – free from cars that may drive through, or surrounded by a fence for protection. Ideally, though, there could be an indoor space for recess that’s different from a “gym.” That’s something that could be a unique differentiator for your school, and one that could be funded by a generous donor or a community foundation.
What is the purpose of non-structured creative play? Does it support an educational standard? No. In that case, it can be eliminated from the schedule so that we can have an additional unit of mathematics, right? Yet, that’s the attitude of some school board members, many of whom do not have degrees in education. We hear daily reports of schools that are eliminating “specials” from their class schedules so that they can focus on the basics. Unfortunately, having everyone focus on the basics can impede the progress of those that have mastered the basics. Those children that have mastered the basics should be able to assist those that haven’t as a lesson in character development, rather than having half a classroom of frustrated students, while the other half is bored. Actually, lessons have always catered to those in the middle of the bell curve, since that’s where the most populous distribution is usually located. That means there are THREE types of students, so add those who are prepared to be educated to those that know it and are bored, and those who have difficulty getting it, and need more help. Interestingly, as our society continues to become more and more polarized, it’s a good bet that the middle group that the teacher is most effective with is shrinking.
If you log on to any search engine and search for “images” of “kids playing games,” most of the resultant images are depressing. There is some sort of technology involved – a video game controller, a mobile device or a laptop computer. While video games foster hand/eye coordination and do have some positive effects on the brain, a constant utilization of technology as play simply to get to the next level or the next high score can result in a sedentary habit that’s difficult to break, and research is finding that such activities actually rewire their thought patterns. They’re an interesting juxtaposition, as they provide the experience of gaming while remaining somewhat comfortable. Games delivered via technology allow for failure with the opportunity to “restart,” as well as provide comfortable physical environment. Stay inside and on the couch to play? Why not? What do kids learn? They can always start again if they fail. Good lesson…in theory. Usually, however, in many of the violent games today, the on-screen character “dies.” In real life, there’s no “do over” if that happens. I wonder what would happen if the character in the game dies, the game wouldn’t work anymore?
Next week, a little more about technology, as well as reading and writing.