Here’s my audacious idea: let’s show children just how seriously we take their education by making sure that every school has a least one adult whose job it is to make play happen.
Let’s take play seriously. I don’t mean make it boring and regimented. Play is some of children’s most important work. The motivation to play is hardwired in the growing brain as an essential activity for developing skills that contribute directly to learning; for example, adaptability, creativity, mastery, and connecting with others.
Scientists from a wide variety of fields are now documenting the importance of play. A study published by Einstein University researcher Romina M. Barros, M.D., in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, examined data on 110,000 third graders. The study found that children who received more recess behaved better in class and were more likely to learn more. (For more information on this study, click here.)
Unfortunately, play is too often dismissed as unimportant and expendable—particularly with the pressures facing principals and teachers to meet academic standards and move the needle on student achievement. Recess and other opportunities for play and physical activity are often replaced by additional instructional time. When recess does exist, it can be chaotic and is the last duty a school staff person wants to be assigned.
But recess does not have to be a dreaded part of the school day. Just one person can transform recess. Whether it is a yard supervisor, cafeteria staff, security personnel, physical education teachers, or another adult on a school campus—individuals can be trained to ensure that the power of play is being fully tapped at recess and throughout the school day.
Imagine if all Baltimore City Schools used recess as a tool to support learning? A trained adult coach could make the playground a virtual classroom where students learn teamwork, conflict resolution, creative problem solving and other life lessons that stretch beyond traditional classroom activities. The result would be a stronger learning community and a more positive educational environment.
One well-trained individual could easily create this kind of transformation in a school. All they need is a little training, a few cones, balls, jump ropes and hula hoops, and some enthusiasm. Guaranteed the smiles and high-fives that follow will make school a whole new experience for the kids of Baltimore.