My son attends our neighborhood school as a kindergartner this year. As a product of Prince George’s County Public Schools myself, I knew that school would be different for my son: I just didn’t realize how much. For instance, at the orientation I learned that his school gets only 15 minutes of recess daily (weather permitting). When I attended kindergarten, I went for a half day. We had 30 minutes for lunch, then 30 minutes for recess. We used construction paper, scissors, crayons and glue. We played “house” and dress up. We used blocks to build structures. School was fun.
Now, students don’t go outdoors when it’s snowing, raining or too windy. Instead, they have recess indoors. This may include playing “quiet” games (e.g. board games), free play with manipulatives, or going to classroom “centers” (e.g. library corner, science area, drama-imaginative play). Although he receives regular Physical Education classes, this does not take the place of recess. Recess is a break that would allow children to play (or not play) as they wish. I want my child to have a break from his learning and more time for movement and creative play.
My son has energy — typical for his age, I’d say. He needs the time and space to expend his energy through play and semi-structured activities. He enjoys playing games such as “cops and robbers”, tag, dodgeball and pool games. He loves to be outdoors. He helps us with yard work and gardening. I am discouraged by the new Common Core standards which are cutting into time for recess and other subjects. I understand that the school day is only so long. But I’d much rather he receive more enrichment (e.g. art, music, drama, free play, language, building/Legos) than academic instruction (e.g. reading, writing). What is now expected from kindergarteners used to be the expectations in second grade, and the lessons are much accelerated. I’m afraid my son is missing out on being a kid (childhood is too short as it is!) and doing “kid stuff”.
In a report for the American Academy of Pediatrics, Kenneth R. Ginsberg states, “Play is important to healthy brain development.” Ginsberg goes on to explain the significant benefits of unstructured play for children:
As they master their world, play helps children develop new competencies that lead to enhanced confidence and the resiliency they will need to face future challenges. Undirected play allows children to learn how to work in groups, to share, to negotiate, to resolve conflicts, and to learn self-advocacy skills. When play is allowed to be child driven, children practice decision-making skills, move at their own pace, discover their own areas of interest, and ultimately engage fully in the passions they wish to pursue.
When will our policy makers realize the importance of unstructured free play for children?