Schools aren’t letting kids get the unrestricted play they need
Kids have energy to burn but for some reason, schools aren’t letting them burn it. A pediatric occupational therapist is arguing not only for more play time for kids, but for less restrictions on it. When schools focus on keeping kids safe, it’s damaging in other ways.
In an essay for The Washington Post, Angela Hanscom, author of “Balanced and Barefoot” and founder of TimberNook, a New England nature-based development program designed to foster creativity and independent play outdoors, writes that schools are putting too much structure around recess and other school-sanctioned play periods, and it’s detrimental to children.
According to The New York Times, in 2015, the number of New York City public schools using occupational therapy to help kids focus and learn better, has increased 30%, and Hanscom believes part of the problem is that students don’t have the ability to get their ya-yas out on their own.
She writes in her post: “The thing is that the very movements we are restricting children from doing to keep them “safe” are the exact exercises I’ve used as a pediatric occupational therapist to help treat the increasingly “unsafe” behaviors seen by veteran teachers in the United States.” And she uses comments from actual kids to support her argument.
One 10-year-old she interviewed said, “We have monkey bars, but we aren’t allowed to go upside down on them. They think we are going to hurt ourselves. I think I’m old enough to try going upside down.” Other students cited similar restrictions that are meant to keep the kids out of harm’s way but may be having adverse affects, causing kids to seek release in other ways, often during actual class.
It sounds to us like schools are becoming infected with the same helicopteritis many parents use to manage their children. Over-scheduled, over-structured, overprotective. And while the end goal of keeping kids safe and occupied may be a noble one, such constant watchdog behavior can be detrimental.
Kids need exercise. There’s a reasons schools have recess – kids need an energy outlet if teachers are going to have any hope of getting their attention in class. And any parent of a toddler or preschooler or kindergartner knows that the more energy your kid burns during the day, the easier it is to get them to go to sleep at night.
Hanscom notes even more serious concerns, pointing out that not only do kids not have enough playtime, when they get it, it’s limited and monitored within an inch of its usefulness. And that can be problematic as kids get older, proven by the fact that falls are on the rise as children are growing up clumsier as a result of a lack of development of the vestibulary system, which helps promote balance.
It’s easy to get the kids out of your hair by letting them use the iPad or watch a movie, but according to Hanscom, they need at least three hours of active free play a day. And it’s up to us and their schools to give it to them.