This is an interesting article by Bill Murphy Jr. I ran across recently. Totally obvious conclusions, but it’s something we need to be reminded of repeatedly. Kids need unstructured play time to run around outside and use their imaginations. (Adults do to, but that’s a different soapbox).
I’ve only included excerpts, but if you’d like to read the original article, click HERE.
Most of us spend hours each day sitting at work. Science says it’s killing us.
Armed with that knowledge, however, what do we force our kids to do each day at school? Sit still, for six or eight hours.
Start With the Boys
News flash: Most boys are rambunctious. Often they seem like they’re in a constant state of motion: running, jumping, fighting, playing, getting hurt—maybe getting upset—and getting right back into the physical action.
Except at school, where they’re required to sit still for long periods of time. (And when they fail to stay still, how are they punished? Often by being forced to skip recess—and thus they sit still longer.)
Researchers at the University of Eastern Finland recently tried to document whether boys actually achieve less in school when they’re restricted from running around and being physically active.
They studied 153 kids, aged 6 to 8, and tracked how much physical activity and sedentary time they had during the day. Sure enough, according to a report by Belinda Luscombe in Time, the less “moderate to vigorous physical activity” the boys had each day, the harder it was for them to develop good reading skills:
The more time kids … spent sitting and the less time they spent being physically active, the fewer gains they made in reading in the two following years. [It] also had a negative impact on their ability to do math.
The results didn’t apply to girls. I know that sounds sexist; the researchers offered a few possible explanations. Maybe there simply are physiological differences—or maybe the girls were just as eager to move around as the boys, but they were better able to set aside that disappointment and concentrate.
“Girl behavior is the gold standard in schools,” says psychologist Michael Thompson. “Boys are treated like defective girls.”
Play Around a Bit
There are a few signs of hope. An elementary school in Texas began working four recess periods per day for each child into its schedule, for example. That was a big enough story to make the national news.
Result? Students are “less fidgety and more focused,” one teacher said. They “listen more attentively, follow directions, and try to solve problems on their own instead of coming to the teacher to fix everything.”
But this approach is the exception to the rule. Until schools figure out how to incorporate lots of movement and play into their schedules, it will be up to parents to compensate.
So set a good example with your own physical activity, and maybe side with your son (or daughter) if he or she gets in trouble for moving too much at school.
Hanscom reminds us of the stakes: “In order for children to learn, they need to be able to pay attention. In order for them to pay attention, we need to let them move.”
Seems reasonable to me. But, what can we do while we’re waiting on the educational system to catch up with research? Make sure your kids (boys especially) are involved in some sort of frequent aerobic activity. And, if you can let them blow off some steam outside before they have to do homework, go for it!
Video games and electronics getting in the way? Carve out specific time for those once homework and outdoor time are all done, and don’t let them become the child’s primary outlet for managing stress. It may be a fun distraction, but it’s only adding to the problem if there’s nothing physical…and active coping skills…to balance it out.