Is playtime more beneficial to kids' education than we thought?

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You may think it's cute when your kids claim recess is their favorite school subject, but could playtime be more beneficial to learning than we thought?

Parents, I dare you: go ask your school aged kid what their favourite subject in school is. I'm willing to bet that their (half-joking) response will be recess.

While they may be responding in jest, a part of them is serious. It may cause some consternation in parents who want their children to excel in the academics, is there anything wrong with your kids enjoying playtime?

Not at all. In fact, it may actually be beneficial to a child's ability to learn and excel in school.

Darby Saxbe, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Southern California, says "[C]hildren, play isn’t just a frivolous activity; it helps kids create social relationships and practice for adulthood. Through play, children experiment with different possibilities and take on different roles, learn how to get along with others, build physical and mental skills, and develop self-confidence."

In other words, playtime is serious business.

In a recent post to Psychology Today, Saxbe references the importance of incorporating physical activity and play into learning environments. According to Dr. Saxbe, "In the traditional school classroom, children sit for long hours and listen to instructions with little breaks. Their interests are everywhere but the teacher. Researchers have already exposed the risks of sitting for hours at a time and know that it increases health problems and the risk for cardiac diseases, diabetes, and obesity."

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"Children with more sedentary lifestyles are at significantly higher cardiovascular risk. Our bodies tell us that we need to move, be active, and play. It takes a great teacher to adapt the classroom curriculum into a fun, creative, and engaging experience using movement to learn. It isn’t easy to do. However, play is instinctual and built into our biology," she adds.

According Stuart Brown, one of the biggest play researchers in the world, states that play is essential for both brain development and social development, from childhood into adulthood.  It is a biological mechanism for making learning enjoyable.

Learn more about the many benefits of playful outlets in learning environments! Visit page two for more!

Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, Assistant Professor of Education at USC Rossier School of Education and of Psychology at USC Brain and Creativity Institute, once wrote that it is “literally neurobiologically impossible to build memories, engage complex thoughts, or make meaningful decisions without emotion." Play helps meld emotion into the experience of learning.

So, if play and physical activity is an inherent part of a child's physiology and ability to learn, why is it considered less important than other aspects of learning and development?

Unfortunately, there's no answer other than the obvious observation that playtime is typically regarded as a superfluous, inessential activity to incorporate into a standard curriculum.

Frankly, that's a shame because experts like Dr. Saxbe believe that removing aspects of school like recess or gym class is doing more harm than good. "The rise of high-stakes testing and a push for schools to become more academically oriented has not only ousted play, but reduced kids’ access to other “playful” outlets like gym, music, and art classes," says Saxbe. Removing such playful outlets causes a handful of stress related disorders and emotional distress on our children.

If a child is denied the opportunity to play, the body and mind fight back. “Play deprived” children may show signs of anxiety, depression, attention problems, and difficulty with self control. Play allows children to let off steam. Play can also be joyful, and, as University of North Carolina researcher Barb Fredrickson has found, positive emotions broaden the scope of attention and increase cognitive flexibility.

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In summation, when school becomes a stressful place for a child, it is no longer a supportive, positive learning environment. Play at schools help children build social relationships, solve problems, connect bridges and deal with tough situations. So why not incorporate "playful outlets" into a standard curriculum?

If we, as parents and/or educators, want to advocate play, the fight starts with us. It may not be an intrinsic part of school, but parents can incorporate play into their child's daily lives. And, they don;t have to treat it as an alternative to learning. Instead, it should be viewed as an essential part of learning as a whole.

According to Dr. Saxbe, an increasing number of "educators are calling for a return to the greater integration of play into elementary education. Rather than view play as a 'privilege,' educators can reframe it as one of the best tools for engaging children and fostering their excitement about learning."

 

[H/T] Psychology Today
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Also READ: Do you know these 5 golden rules of playdate etiquette?

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