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New research suggests that play and down time is as important to a child’s academic experience as reading, science and math.
And in addition, regular recess, fitness or nature time can influence behavior, concentration and even grades.
An article by Tara Parker-Pope in the NY Times Science section says researchers studied the links between recess and classroom behavior among nearly 11,000 children aged 8 and 9. The results have been published this month in the journal Pediatrics.
Those children who had more than 15 minutes of recess a day showed better behavior in class than those who had little or none.
Although disadvantaged children are more likely to be denied recess, the association held up even after researchers controlled for a number of variables including sex, ethnicity, public or private school and class size.
Dr Romina M Barros, who is a pediatrician and an assistant clinical professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, says the findings were important, since many schools did not view recess as essential to education.
“Sometimes you need data published for people at the professional level to start believing it has an impact. We should understand that kids need that break because the brain needs that break.”
The Pediatrics study shows that many children are not getting that break. Thirty percent were found to have little or no recess.
Another report, from a children’s advocacy group, finds that 40 percent of schools surveyed had cut back at least one recess period from each day.
Teachers often punish children by taking away recess privileges. Dr Barros finds that illogical.
“Recess should be part of the curriculum. You don’t punish a kid by having them miss math class, so kids shouldn’t be punished by not getting recess.”
In January 2009, Harvard researchers reported in The Journal of School Health that the more physical fitness tests children passed, the better they did on academic tests. That study, of 1800 middle school students, suggests that kids can benefit academicallly from physical activity during gym class and recess.
A smaller study in 2008 of children with ADHD (published online in The Journal of Attention Disorders) found that walks outdoors appeared to improve scores on tests of attention and concentration. It was noted that children who took walks in natural settings did better than those who walked in urban areas.
Researchers found that a dose of nature worked as well (sometimes better) as a dose of medicine to improve concentration.
According to Andrea Faber Taylor, a child environment and behavior researcher at the Landscape and Human Health Laboratory at the University of Illinois, other research suggests that all children — not just those with attention problems — can benefit from spending time in nature during the school day.
In another study of children who live in public housing, girls who had access to green courtyeards scored better on concentration tests than those who did not.
TWO FORMS OF ATTENTION
The reason may be that the brain uses two forms of attention.
“Directed” attention allows us to concentrate on work, reading and tests. “Involuntary” attention takes over when we’re distracted by things like running water, crying babies, a beautiful view or a pet that crawls into our lap.
Directed attention is a limited resource. Studying for long hours, or sitting at a computer, can leave us feeling fatigues. But spending time in a natural setting appears to activate involuntary attention, giving the brain’s directed attention time to rest.
Says Dr Faber Taylor,
“It’s pretty clear that all human beings experience attentional fatigue. Our attention has to be restored from that fatigue, and there is a growing body of research evidence that nature is one way that seems particularly effective at doing it.”
Playtime and nature time are important for learning, but also for health and development.
When young rats are denied opportunities for rough-and-tumble play, they develop numerous social problems in adulthood. They fail to recognize social cues and the nuances of rat hierarchy. And they aren’t able to mate.
By the same token, says Dr Stuart Brown, people who play as children learn to handle life in a much more resilient and vital way. Brown is the author of the new book “Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul” (Avery).
Brown is a psychiatrist in Carmel, California. He has collected more than 6,000 “play histories” from human subjects. He is the founder of the National Institute for Play, and he works with educators and legislators to promote the importance of preserving playtime in schools.
He calls play a
“fundamental biological process. From my viewpoint, it’s a major public health issue. Teachers feel like they’re under huge pressures to get academic excellence to the exclusion of having much fun in the classroom. But playful learning leads to better academic success than the skills-and-drills approach.”
sole source: Tara Parker-Pope’s article in the NY Times on 2/24/09. www.nytimes.com.
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