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Our Tiger life: 15 minutes of recess in 7 hours of kindergarten. What’s happening to play?

February 8, 2011 – 3:08 PM

By Katie Culver

Yes, “Tiger Mom” has us roaring about the ruthless strategies she utilized to seek “success” for her daughters at endeavors she herself was pushing. So success, but at what expense?

And yet, many critiquing Amy Chua’s approach have themselves forgotten a key element of childhood: Play. It’s not just Tiger Mom, but parents and educators who have embraced a new trend that puts academic success over all else.

In schools, recess is cut to pack in more academics. Ambitious parents schedule activities to fill every waking minute of their child’s day. Call me crazy, but isn’t play supposed to be fun? And best when initiated/discovered by kids themselves?

Clearly, parents and schools are not making adequate time for this staple of childhood. I have seen this up close, as an elementary school teacher in urban schools, while researching how urban girls are discouraged from playing sports, and now as a parent. Yes, they’ve cut playtime at my son’s school – in kindergarten!

(Now he gets 15 minutes of outdoor play in a seven-hour school day.)

And other schools, too, are putting the brakes on recess to make more time for test prep. Poor urban schools as well as even high-performing schools obsessed with test scores are cutting playtime – and an important part of a student’s education. (Especially as research suggests that non-academic skills are critical to academic success).

Why does play matter?

It’s not just a hedge against childhood obesity or kids who can’t operate with out a clicker or a mouse in hand (or the precursor to the joy of sports participation). Play teaches things our children need to know like creativity, logical thinking, problem-solving and social skills. Sitting at a desk, drilling for tests just doesn’t cultivate this essential know-how.  (Plus, may produce some pretty boring people!)

There has been concern for a while now that children’s lives outside of school are jammed. And increasingly, they are over-programmed in school as well. Where is the unstructured, uninhibited and even at times (and when age-appropriate) unsupervised time? A child’s imagination must have time and space to flow and flourish. They need to explore, be silly and do things – not for a score result – but just because it is fun. They need to learn how to negotiate power and leadership, try on roles, and imagine possibilities. They need to dress up (girls as well as boys!) and get messy, create and destroy, ask questions and tell stories.

I cherish most the days where I have the luxury of just playing with my kids (grown-ups need to play, too!). I suspect that if kids spent more time playing and less preparing for their futures, those futures would be a whole lot brighter (and definitely more fun!)

  1. 2 Responses to “Our Tiger life: 15 minutes of recess in 7 hours of kindergarten. What’s happening to play?”

  2. You need to see the wonderful work Jill Vialet has done in founding PLAYWORKS–a non-profit sparked by a principal’s request for helping save recess (my version of the history)…anyway, check out the work of PLAYWORKS at http://www.playworks.org

    By Nancy Boutilier on Feb 9, 2011

  3. Here some other very relevant resources on this topic. “Let them play”

    Brain Rules – by John Medina – stresses the importance of exercise and it’s benefits. A quote… “there is no greater anti-brain environment than the classroom and cubicle” (www.brainrules.net)

    Two other books dedicated to the topic…

    – “Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain” by John Ratey

    – “Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul” by Stuart Brown

    By Jeremy Andreoli on Feb 9, 2011

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