Free play, recess vital to development of young children
By Susan Westley Naples
Laughter and shouts of joy no longer ring from our kindergarten playgrounds. Instead of children running, jumping rope, climbing and playing, they sit in classrooms day after day.
In the Sept. 9 edition of the Daily News, an article stated: Today’s kindergarten is not the socializing informal play of the baby boomer’s day. Today’s kindergarten demands higher-level critical thinking, due to the standard-based assessments.
For years our kindergarten children have been relegated to the classroom, saddled with a schedule that should only be reserved for middle school — one subject taught after the other. A sunny room filled with a dress-up corner, shelves storing building blocks and easels ready for a budding artist have been warehoused, considered useless and unproductive for today’s young children. The playgrounds sit empty because more time must be designated to academic pursuits.
How many times have we heard the expression, “Play is the work of the child”? The desire to play is as much a part of a child’s being as breathing. But today our educational system turns its back on this most basic need in the name of No Child Left Behind. It is believed that play is a waste of time and more academics will result in higher test scores.
This is absolute nonsense.
Research over and over again shows not only the benefit of free-choice play and recess, but that it is vital to the development of healthy, well-adjusted children.
An article from Young Children, September 2009, titled “Recess — It’s Indispensable! supports this notion. The article states: “We found no research to support administrators’ assumptions that test scores … could be improved by keeping children in the classroom all day.” The article goes on to say: “There is considerable research to suggest that recess has many benefits for young children.”
How ironic that schools claim to want what is best for a child’s success and then do the opposite in early childhood programs. Our own school system includes in its belief statement, “We must base all of our decisions on evidence and the best interest of students,” but it ignores the American Academy of Pediatricians’ 2007 report that “encourages parents to make sure their children’s school programs offer more than academic preparedness … the setting should (also) attend to the social and emotional needs of the child.”
The evidence linking play and cognitive development should make our administrators and legislators rethink their demands.
Children are able to stay on task longer and remember more when given recess breaks. The American Academy of Pediatricians affirms that memory and attention are improved when broken up “not by a change in academic instruction or class topic” but by physical activity.
In their Position Statement of Young Children and Recess, the National Association of Early Childhood Specialists report, “A wide range of social competencies — cooperation, sharing, language, conflict resolution — can be actively practiced, interpreted and learned in a meaningful context during recess. Through active, free play and peer interaction, children can develop a respect for rules, gain self-discipline and construct an appreciation for other people’s cultures and beliefs.”
Another quote from that Sept. 9 Daily News article: “We see kids displaying bullying characteristics as early as 5 years old.” Kindergarten is the place where the foundation of respect for others is strengthened. This can only be done through interacting with others in a playful situation.
Our schools can have it all — an engaging and challenging program for the kindergartners, but it must address the needs of the whole child, which include valuing their social, emotional and physical development. Then our young children will be more able to succeed in academic pursuits. In order to help our young children reach their highest potential, it is imperative that we reinstate free play centers and recess.
Westley is a retired kindergarten teacher. She has a bachelor’s degree in child development from Florida State University and a master’s degree in early childhood education from the University of Miami.