Play…It’s Free!

This post may make you sense that I’m longing to be back in the classroom again. Well, not really. I like being at home with my girls. But this post is rather long. I normally prefer to read short blog posts, myself! If a post is too long, I skim over it, and then continue browsing other blogs! But I thought this topic would be fun for me to write about, from the perspective of a teacher and a parent.

As I was reading the paper the other day, I came across this article: Child experts pressing play. I started to think about play.

I taught second grade for twelve years, and I felt that play was a very important part of our day. At my first school, which was in a rural area, we started at 8:30 and dismissed the kids at 3:15. We had recess after lunch, and another recess in the afternoon, and I felt that this unstructured play time really helped the kids focus on work when it was time to come back into the classroom. During recess duty, I learned a lot about my students when I listened and watched them play, more than I would have in the classroom alone. When I went to a suburban school, we had less time in our day as we started at 9:05. Afternoon recess was discouraged, and I never fit it into our schedule since we had too many academics to fit in.

Free play is also being eliminated at home. When I first started teaching second grade, I asked the teacher that taught the other second grade if she gave out homework. She said she didn’t give much homework, and so I didn’t, either. I would send home unfinished work, and that was about it. Over the years, that has changed dramatically. I have had parents complain that I didn’t send home enough homework. Once, I challenged a parent. That didn’t go so well. She wanted homework because while her middle schooler was doing homework, her second grader wasn’t occupied with homework. I suggested that since he was only eight, shouldn’t he play while he was still young enough to not be mired down with homework? She vehemently disagreed, and felt that I wasn’t preparing him for third grade.

At the same school, I worked with the Curriculum Enrichment Coordinator to send work home with a gifted student. One of the activities she recommended and sent home: building blocks! Open ended toys such as blocks and paints are wonderful for creative play.

Michael Thompson, a child psychologist, is concerned about the lessening of free play. Here is a list of reasons free play is disappearing, according to Thompson:

— Parents’ reluctance to let their kids play outside on their own, for fear of abduction or injury, and the companion trend of scheduling lessons, supervised sports and other structured activities that consume a large chunk of a child’s non-school hours.
— More hours per week spent by kids watching TV, playing video games, using the Internet,communicating on cell phones.
— Shortening or eliminating recess at many schools — a trend so pronounced that the National PTA has launched a “Rescuing Recess” campaign.
— More emphasis on formal learning in preschool, more homework for elementary school students and more pressure from parents on young children to quickly acquire academic skills.

“Parents are more self-conscious and competitive than in the past,” Thompson said. “They’re pushing their kids to excel. … Free play loses out.”

The consequences are potentially dire, according to Thompson. He contends that diminished time to play freely with other children is producing a generation of socially inept young people and is a factor behind high rates of youth obesity, anxiety, attention-deficit disorder and depression.

Seeing as how I feel that play is so important, I was very interested in what the show Sid, the Science Kid includes in every episode. Sid and his fellow classmates learn a science concept, and then their teacher says something along the lines of “Now, let’s go play with all your wonderful ideas!” The kids cheer and go play in the classroom as real kids might, and incorporate their newly learned science ideas as part of their play.

Okay, now that I have made a plug for Sid the Science Kid, Lily’s new favorite show, I’ll tell you that I don’t think TV is that great. When Lily was born, I decided to follow the AAP’s advice to not let her watch TV until she was 2 years old. I think a lot of people thought I was being too strict, but for the most part Lily didn’t watch very much TV. Instead of learning from TV, babies and toddlers learn best by playing and interacting with toys and their parents. I still restrict Lily’s TV, but it’s pretty easy since she’s used to it. Emmy watches more than Lily did, but hopefully not too much.

I also chose Lily’s preschool on the basis that it was play-based. I want her to learn to socialize and play, and learn all those important preschool skills through playing. This preschool website agrees with me. Yes, you can find just about anything on the Internet to support your opinions, and I’m no exception.

I think it’s time for me to stop typing and go play!

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