Proof that playtime is great for a kid's health.
The best way to get kids to learn, as it turns out, might be to give them more time for unstructured free play.
As a school in Fort Worth, Texas recently discovered, giving children in first grade and kindergarten more scheduled breaks has actually increased their ability to focus on their lessons.
After implementing four 15-minute breaks for the kids to go outside and play — two in the morning and then two more in the afternoon — children have actually been learning more than they were with only the one 15-minute recess per day.
Initially, teachers at the school were concerned that they wouldn't be able to make up the lost time, since the breaks went from just fifteen minutes to an hour of playtime per day.
"There was a part of me that was very nervous about it," said Donna McBride, a first grade teacher at Eagle Mountain Elementary. "I was trying to wrap my head around my class going outside four times a day and still being able to teach those children all the things they needed to learn."
But now, even months after the school has implemented the new break procedures, Donna and other teachers are noting that the students are actually sitting still, paying more attention, and even following directions better. Disciplinary action is down as well.
"We're seeing really good results," she says.
Children have, at least in recent years, been kept to the rigorous standards of a 15- to 30-minute recess break, usually revolving somewhere around their lunch time. But with the chance of inclement weather, poor classroom behavior, or testing that keeps children in doors, some students may go days without actually going outside for playtime, which many consider detrimental to their health and development.
Many schools enrolled in Common Core are even attempting to reduce or remove the students' free time entirely — a decision that is not recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. According to the AAP, "Recess is a crucial and necessary component of a child's development and, as such, it should not be withheld for punitive or academic reasons."
And, as Texan teachers are proving, the benefits of increasing the students' playtime are incredible.
Sitting still in the same chair all day is difficult for adults, so it's not hard to see that a child without the same experience or discipline would struggle to pay attention in a similar environment. Trying to keep a child occupied when they're eager to get up and move around can be quite the challenge, as anyone who has spent time inside of a classroom can tell you.
But by giving the children regular play breaks, they are more focused on their lessons and less focused on getting up and moving around, giving them the ability to sit still and pay attention to their lessons, and therefore absorb the information better.
The program, initially instated only at the kindergarten and first grade levels, has plans to increase by one grade per year, bringing every level into the fold within a few years.
While teachers were happy to find the results were beneficial for the students' in classroom time, it seems that they are not alone in the positive effect of the new break structure. Parents of children currently enrolled in the program have reported that their children are more creative and independent at home.
There are plans to increase the program to other schools, so in a few years, this trend may even pass on to schools in states outside of Texas.
This would give elementary students all over the country more time to exercise, learn social skills and create lasting friendships with their peers, while also developing better grades and becoming more creative in their home and classroom environments.