Expand Learning Beyond the Classroom

The increasing emphasis on academics, organized sports and elimination of recess have put the squeeze on outdoor play for today's children. Kids spend more time at their desks completing classwork or at the kitchen table doing homework than on the playground. And while the decline of outdoor play is frightening, what's even more alarming is school officials failing to acknowledge the importance of outdoor play for students.

Q: What do kids learn from play?

A: Play is one of the ways children learn about themselves and the world around them. Through play, they learn to get along with others, sort out conflicts, practice language skills, and develop fine and gross motor skills. Play fosters independence, self-esteem, self-regulation and creativity, and gets kids moving. It contributes to the emotional and physical well-being of children and offers them some much needed downtime.

Play provides real-life lessons, such as experiencing group processes of thought, evaluating risks and making decisions. These lessons prepare kids for adulthood. Through playful exploration and experience, children develop skills and knowledge that can't be taught in a classroom.

The benefits of play last a lifetime.

Q: How does play impact classroom behavior and learning?

A: The skills and experiences children acquire through play translate into enhanced classroom performance. Children who play more tend to concentrate better, have fewer behavioral issues and perform stronger in their academic pursuits. Think about it this way—when adults work too hard and feel like they are burning out, they take a break. The break reenergizes them and enables them to regain focus on the tasks at hand. That's exactly what play does. Play helps kids unwind, have fun and focus better in the classroom. It also helps deepen their understanding of classroom content.

Q: Is there research pointing to the benefits of play and recess?

A: Educational theory, experimental research and longitudinal data suggest that providing daily recess breaks throughout the early childhood and primary school years maximizes academic performance and aids in the adjustment to school. A study of fourth-grade students' recess activity found that those who participated in rigorous physical activity exhibited higher levels of concentration than those who sat quietly. Another study from 2009 found that teachers reported improved behaviors in 11,000 children ages 8 to 9 who participated in more than 15 minutes of daily recess. In fact, in Finland, taking multiple play breaks during the school day has made kids more focused, eager to learn and happy. The country's school system is consistently at the top of international rankings.

Q: With the decreased focus on recess, is there a specific message for parents and teachers?

A: Play benefits whole child development and should be defended. Parents and educators should know the facts surrounding recess and become advocates, challenging the growing trend to reduce or eliminate recess from the school day. Recess is a child's cherished time and should not be curtailed as a form of punishment.