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Making the Case for Increased Playtime in Schools

A Commentary in a recent issue of Education Week makes the case that increasing playtime in schools will help improve students' focus and academic performance while cutting back on behavior issues.

Debbie Rhea, an associated dean at the Harris College of Nursing and Health Sciences at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, begins the piece as follows:

"It seems counterintuitive to think that less classroom time and more outdoor play would lead to a better education for kids. After all, what many in our country, including most recently New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, have prescribed are longer days in the classroom. But longer days on task don't equate to better results. Instead, they translate into more burnout, lower test scores, and more of the same. All work and no play really does make dull boys and girls.

For years, educators have tried different strategies of more testing and of more time on task to reverse these trends, but they have proved to be unsuccessful. The answer is not additional in-class sitting time. What kids need is time to move and have unstructured play."

You can read through the full Commentary here. As she notes in the piece, there's plenty of research to back up her theory.

A study released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in 2012 found that students who participated in a structured recess transition to schoolwork more quickly than students in traditional recess. On average, teachers at schools with structured recess needed about 2.5 fewer minutes of transition time between recess and learning time, which, over the course of a school year, could add up to about a full day of class time.  

The American Academy of Pediatrics also espoused the value of recess back in 2012, saying, "To be effective, the frequency and duration of breaks should be sufficient to allow the student to mentally decompress." The academy warned that schools should not cut recess for physical education or vice versa, as only recess (particularly unstructured recess) "provides the creative, social, and emotional benefits of play."

And, after all, if most kids are going to be chained to desk jobs for 40-plus years once they graduate, shouldn't they take advantage of playtime while they still can?

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