Young Children Need More Play Time, Not Class Time
By Carole Hornsby Haynes, Ph.D. | September 1, 2015 National Center for Policy Analysis
In American schools young children are being pushed into more structured, teacher-directed class time. Play-based kindergartens, and now even preschools, have been replaced largely by drilling and testing. This method is negatively affecting their creativity and curiosity. Torrance scores for creative ability have been falling for Americans – especially for younger children.
Although the length of classes in American schools has been extended, along with more testing, to try to improve academic performance -- “if you want to succeed, you have to work harder” -- this has been counterproductive. Literacy is declining and students are experiencing increasing burnout.
Other countries already understand the futility of this method and, so for decades, have provided shorter structured periods interspersed with unstructured recesses. In Finland, for example, students take a 15-minute break for outdoor play after every 45 minutes of classroom time. In East Asia, most primary schools give their students a 10-minute break after 40 minutes or so of instruction.
In the United States the average first-grader spends seven hours a day at school, with few or no breaks and certainly not an unstructured recess. Sitting too long causes them to become mentally and physically sluggish. Children have to move around frequently and having unstructured play brings renewed energy and focus on lessons.
Studies show that play is critical in the development of children’s physical and mental health. It helps to boost their
In his article, “Children, Play, and Development,” F.P. Hughes writes that there is a strong relationship between language development and make-believe play. According to Canadian researcher Sergio Pellis, for their brain development, children need to engage in free-play without rules or coaches. He believes that unstructured play may be more important for brain development than even class instruction.
Research studies link more time for free play to improvements in academic skills, healthy emotional attitude, classroom behavior, and better adjustment to school life.
Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas is conducting a nine-year study, the Link Project (Let’s Inspire Innovation ‘N Kids), to test the effects of more play and less class. Outdoor unstructured play is being measured against indoor brain breaks to determine psychological benefits. The students were given two 15-minute unstructured recesses in the morning and again in the afternoon. They also had three 15-minute character development sessions during the week. The project was launched in 2013-2014 in K-1 classes in two private schools in Texas. The first year’s report shows positive results.
- Children demonstrated social growth and development
- Transition time from class to recess and back was reduced
- Children were more disciplined and focused in the classroom
- Academic performance on reading and math increased significantly
- Misbehavior during recess decreased significantly
- Off-task behaviors in classroom decreased significantly
TCU will continue the study, adding another grade each year, and will launch the study in four public schools in the fall of 2015-2016.