Things are happening at Eagle Mountain Elementary School in Forthworth, Texas. They are happening on the playground and in the classrooms, and believe it or not, they are connected. Recently, the school tripled the amount of recess time the students received and the results have been amazing. We have talked about the importance of play on this blog in the past. It looks like Eagle Mountain has discovered play’s importance in practice.
Okay…that’s a bit oversimplified, but the positive outcomes of tripling playtime seem to be endless. From Kimberly White over at Inspire More:
…kindergartners and first graders were given two 15-minute breaks in the morning, followed by two 15-minute breaks in the afternoon (Students in every grade eventually will be on the new schedule, with one grade being added each year).
During that time, they work on empathy, team play and other social skills. And just as importantly, teachers report that they’re more focused, have better problem-solving skills and fewer disciplinary issues when they return to the classroom.
Following the Finns
Eagle Mountain found an example in how Finnish schools handle scheduling in elementary schools. Students in Finland take a 15-minute break for every 45 minutes of instruction time. When American Teacher Timothy Walker headed to Helsinki for a teaching post, he didn’t immediately see the need for these frequent breaks. So he changed things. The results were…not ideal. He quickly changed back.
Once I incorporated these short recesses into our timetable, I no longer saw feet-dragging, zombie-like kids in my classroom. Throughout the school year, my Finnish students would—without fail—enter the classroom with a bounce in their steps after a 15-minute break. And most importantly, they were more focused during lessons.
Free Play is Key
The secret to unlocking the benefits of these breaks is in the freedom the students enjoy – an important contrast to the structure of the classroom. Students enjoy time playing together, bonding, and exploring their creative potential. In addition, it gives kids a chance to build decision-making skills.
Remember – free play is not sitting in front of a screen with a group and talking about what you’re watching. It’s not holding a small electronic device playing a game with other wirelessly. It’s real-world, group interaction. Eye contact. Teamwork. Physical activity. This is where the benefits are found.
More Time in the Real World
[SPOILER ALERT – READY PLAYER ONE]
In Stephen Spielberg’s new film, Ready Player One, society basically lives in a virtual world, called the Oasis. In the end, the main character, Wade Watts, wins control of the Oasis. One of the first things he does is to shut it down on Tuesdays and Thursdays to encourage people to interact with each other in the real world. This is what actual free play is about. Building social skills, freeing the mind to explore different creative possibilities, and enjoying being silly with friends helps kids focus when they go back into the classroom.
So…get out there and play. Your brain will thank you for it!