School Beat — February 4, 2010

How important is play and recess for your student?

by MICHAEL J. HIBBELN
Principal, Roguewood Elementary School

With increased pressure from the federal and state government to improve achievement, increase test scores, and cover an increasingly demanding curriculum, we should never lose sight of the importance of play and recess for our children. Our playgrounds are also classrooms, and recess at school serves an important role in the social, emotional, physical and cognitive development of our students.

Social development begins at birth and continues rapidly throughout the early childhood years. Recess is that period of time during the school day that allows children the opportunity to interact with peers in ways not usually possible in the typical classroom. A wide range of social competencies such as cooperation, sharing, language, and conflict resolution can be actively practiced, interpreted and learned in a meaningful context during recess.

Recess acts as an outlet for reducing anxiety, too. During recess, children have the opportunity to express themselves to others, and begin rehearsing behaviors and practicing skills. Children learn about their own abilities, perseverance, self-direction, responsibility and self-acceptance. They begin to understand which behaviors result in approval or disapproval from their peers.

Recess also provides our students with opportunities to move and participate in physical activities. In October 1999, the Agriculture Department released a report that revealed a record 10 million American children—or one in five—are overweight, and that a record eight percent of the children are already overweight by preschool age. Through active play on the playground, our students learn about their bodies’ capabilities and how to control their bodies. One of the most apparent benefits of recess is the opportunity for sheer physical activity and the practice of physical skills, such as running, climbing, jumping, chasing, batting, kicking, catching, balancing, hanging, swinging, stretching, pushing and pulling.

Additionally, physical activity fuels the brain with a better supply of blood and provides brain cells with a healthier supply of natural substances. These substances enhance brain growth and help the brain make a greater number of connections between neurons (Healy, 1998). The connections make the brain better able to process a variety of information, thus leading to improved retention of facts, a greater understanding of concepts, and subsequently higher achievement.

There are volumes of recent research substantiating the link between play and cognitive gains. Children learn through play. Children develop intellectual constructs and cognitive understandings through the hands-on, manipulative, exploratory behavior that occurs during play episodes and play opportunities. “Children can remember more, focus better, and regulate their own behavior better in play than in any other context,” (Guddemi et al., p. 5). After children practice skills in play, they become ready to utilize these skills in other contexts (Bodrova & Leong, 1999).

With winter here in full force, our children may not feel as free to run outside like in the summer, but don’t let that stop them! It is important to help facilitate play even in these winter months—go get cold, wet and freezing! A warm cup of hot chocolate is always a welcomed reward.

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