Do you remember what it was like to be a kid and play? Did you run around the neighborhood until your mom called you home for dinner? I used to play the hiding game or minute game (which was hide and seek but we were too old for that) all over our block. We would also skate, ride bikes, and every summer we would hunt down refrigerator cardboard boxes to use to make houses. We would cut out windows and even hang curtains.
Being a kid was fun, but now we don’t see kids playing as much as they used to. I know life is different now, you have to keep a closer eye on kids, you can’t let them roam the neighborhood like we might have been able to; but they don’t play enough even in their own backyards. I watch elementary kids leave schools with their cell phones, ipods, and other mp3s. I see kids jump in the car and start playing with their Game Boys and I think — what did I do in 4th grade? I went to school, did some homework, and then played until dinner time.
I’m not saying I think modern technology is evil, hey, I love my Internet connection, but have kids forgotten how to play? I’m not talking about classes — judo, dance, music, soccer, chess — I’m talking about kids getting together and playing a game of catch or freeze tag. How often do you see that anymore?
There is so much pressure being put on our kids to compete in school, sports, and life. I just was at a site talking about a DVD that helps little kids learn to read. Supposedly they can learn to recognize words as young as three months. I enjoy learning, and I know my kids are benefiting from learning two languages, but do we really need to teach a baby how to recognize words? We have heard over and over again about schools cutting back on arts and physical education and even recess. Why? So the kids have time to do the real learning — so the kids can excel on their SAT scores and get into the college of their choice. We are supposedly getting three month olds on the track to better SAT scores instead of letting them roll over and chew on their toys.
Evidently, we have to work on getting our kids to play again. The irony of that statement — we have to work on play. The other day I was driving to the hospital to visit my mom and I heard this interesting program about kids and exercise. Author Rae Pica was being interviewed about her new book “A Running Start-How Play, Physical Activity and Free Time Create a Successful Child” in which she writes about how achievement is being valued above playing and how this isn’t good. She mentioned in the interview a study that was done among elementary students in which they found that when 30 per cent of the day was spent in physical activity, the students actually performed better in their academic work.
According to Daniel Broughton, M.D. at the MayoClinic.com “unstructured playtime gives children the opportunity to learn, to reason, to make decisions and to use their imaginations… When an adult isn’t dictating how something must be done, kids practice when to push and when to compromise on their own.”
I have to admit I get a bit consumed with the learning thing. I love to read and I love to learn. I have to remember that kids need to play. My kids are not overly structured with karate classes and advanced learning classes, but that is probably more to do with our financial restrictions than to a decision to see them play more.
In the last couple of weeks, homework has been a big topic of debate in the schools, and some schools are enforcing “no homework policies.” I heard a guest on another radio talk show speak about the lack of studies that support the benefits of homework — at least among younger kids. I understand that making a young elementary school kid focus on homework after a day of sitting in the class is asking quite a bit.
I want to make a distinction here though. I think there is a big difference between a 4th grader and a 7th grader when it comes to homework and playing. I think for older kids it’s important to have homework and plenty of structure. I think too much free time when you get to be a teenager isn’t healthy. I want my kids, when they are teenagers to be busy with sports, homework–every activity I can find! Too much free time as a teenager can be dangerous. I also think that learning more responsibility is important as they get older. My husband, who was a math teacher for a number of years, has said many times that math is a skill that needs to be practiced. Anyone who writes knows that the more you write the better you write (hopefully!). So, should we get rid of homework in order to give more time to playing? Well, maybe we need to cut it down for the younger kids but I’m all for keeping those older kids practicing algebraic equations and writing papers!
It seems that the education system is somewhat out of balance. Is homework going away so that kids will play more or is a no homework policy being encouraged because parents have a hard time getting their kids to do their homework? I don’t particularly relish prodding my son to do his homework, but at nine years of age I also think it’s an opportunity to start teaching him about diligence and responsibility. I think my kindergartner might learn that lesson in a different way, however.
So what’s the balance? How do we get our kids playing more and still learning important attributes like discipline, responsibility, diligence and even self esteem when they complete hard work? How much learning happens just through playing?
Lately, my husband and I seem to be thinking more and more about other educational options for my kids. They’re in public school and are doing fine, but I keep thinking that I could offer a more individualized learning environment for them if I home schooled. Believe me, that is a really hard thing for me to say. I love dropping my kids off at school, and having a break. Am I trying to fix something that’s not broken? Would my kids, who thrive on social interaction, hate me? Could I home school them without ruining them, and without taking me one step closer to lunacy?