Two Recesses a Day Keep Our Students Happy and Healthy
By: Neil Mufson
Mr. Mufson discusses the importance of and reasoning behind why our students get two recesses each day.
Why do we at The Country School make certain that all our children, Kindergarten through Eighth Grade, have at least two recess periods per day? First, everyone needs a break, especially those with rapidly growing brains and bodies. Second, much of what children need to learn during their elementary and middle school years has to do with how to socialize — how to relate to others so that they can have meaningful and satisfying relationships with others. Kids’ play lays the groundwork for being able to collaborate — a life skill they will definitely need in the future — as they navigate for themselves the ins and outs and ups and downs of spending time unstructured times with peers. But another important reason we see recess as critical is that it is fun and involves play.
An article in the August edition of The Atlantic by Alison Gopnik entitled “In Defense of Play” outlined some of the cognitive benefits that play provides and even its unique characteristics. “Play is not work… [and] it doesn’t accomplish anything.” She also defines it as fun, voluntary, and possessing its own “special structure, a pattern of repetition and variation.” She notes that social animals like humans “only play freely when their other basic needs are satisfied.” Studies with rats and robots suggest that play promotes brain plasticity, which leads to greater flexibility and resilience when encountering new experiences. As Gopnik notes, “animals who play are better at generating new possibilities.” Play also “lets the young learn by randomly and variably trying out a range of actions and ideas, and then working out the consequences.” This leads to the ability to imagine different scenarios and outcomes, greater creativity, and “how to deal with the unexpected.” In a recent Washington Post article on what is coming to be called “the play gap,” the phenomenon that lower socioeconomic children frequently have the fewest opportunities for unstructured play, Nancy Carlson-Paige sums it up this way: “In play children develop problem solving skills, social and emotional awareness, self-regulation, imagination and inner resilience.”
Gopnik observes that perhaps due to the “Puritan streak in American culture… American parents often act as if play is only valuable if it will produce predictable outcomes.” Many make the mistake of only involving their children in numerous adult-structured activities that have the benefit of providing exercise, but not play. Gopnik concludes that “the paradox of play is that in order to be able to reach a variety of new goals in the long term, you have to actively turn away from goal seeking in the short run.”
While play undoubtedly benefits children cognitively and socially, the bottom line at The Country School is that we make time to play because it is fun and promotes balance and happiness. It lets kids be kids. So even if there weren’t evidence that play leads to enhanced learning, at The Country School we’d be promoting it for its own sake.
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