This is an excerpt from the U.S. Department of Education’s article “Crisis In the Kindergarten.” It discusses the need for unstructured play time and why it is important academically.
Research shows that cutting out play does not benefit children academically, socially, mentally, or physically. I urge you to consider the above and self-reflect. We all need to do this on a regular basis. Are you putting the children first in the decisions that you have control over? Are you basing those choices on valid research? Are you making choices out of fear of losing your position and consequently compromising your staff and students?
I have been incredibly lucky to have had wonderful principals, not so wonderful principals, and to wear the shoes of an administrator myself. I left my administrative position to return to the classroom. Why? Because I am a good teacher. It’s where my expertise lies. Because I love children and feel an incredible fulfillment from their accomplishments.
Sadly, I’ve considered leaving the classroom altogether. You undoubtedly have many teachers in the same position now. Why? Because you are asking them to do something that is against their ethics. The teacher instinct is to fight for, defend, and protect their students. Being forced to say “No, we can’t go outside,” “Yes, we are having another test,” “No, we have to learn it out of the book,” “30 more minutes of non-stop, meaningless reading to build up your endurance.” Hard pills to swallow over and over again when you know that you are the instrument delivering the recipe for “I now hate school…and reading.”
Being a principal is a hard job. We teachers can be the toughest bunch of employees based on the above. We will fight for our children. But, the main question is…shouldn’t we be on the same team with the same objective? I urge all administrators to be active listeners. Ask your teachers what is working and what is not. If having unstructured play is within your decision-making, please consider the research. We are not asking for “recess” so we can stand around and have a break. We are fighting for what is right for our children.
Please join us.
The following letter is written as a plea to those who have the ability to choose to keep or eliminate play time in our schools. Please feel free to share it as much as you like. You can grab the printable letter as a free download by clicking the picture at the end of the article.
If you find this letter in your mailbox, it is because you have some fantastic teachers who love their jobs and students, but do not wish to appear as though they are questioning your authority.
They understand the pressures you face as a principal to increase test scores and focus on the academic growth of each child.
This issue is one that is putting your teachers in moral conflict. They have spent at least 4 years in their respective universities learning the importance of play in early childhood, and have seen the academic, mental, social, and physical benefits in the classroom. They have studied the research that proves that creative play is a developmental necessity in early learning. Sadly, many are now seeing the negative effects of the removal of play.
I’ve spent many hours researching as both an administrator and as an educator, and feel that in either role, the focus should be on the children. Not the district. Not the pressures. Not the tests. I have found that the best leaders, who were a positive example of what a principal should be, also had the best school grades.
I worked for a high school coach who became a principal. We were all a little skeptical in the beginning, but he used the same methods of team building in his new profession. He made sure the children had P.E. 5 times per week. In addition to this, every grade had recess daily. He had assemblies once every few weeks to recognize children who have had breakthroughs academically, behaviorally, etc. This was in a low income area with many parents who were immigrants, migrant workers, and gang members. From the time he took over, our school grade rose every year. Parents became involved. Teachers and students wanted to come to school because they felt appreciated.
He compared the school to a service industry. He said the student is the customer. You are the sellers…selling them ideas. “I am the manager and I am here to serve you and get you what you need to be effective. I consider the teachers the experts and I’m here to help.” On the contrary, I had another principal who used another model for her school. She said that the students were the workers, who answered to the teachers. We were the managers who answered to the principals, who answered to the district. Everything was test driven. We saw the removal of 3 days of P.E., Art, and Music. Playground time was cut down. Our school grade went from an A to a D. So did student, teacher, and parent morale. I heard former students who loved school saying they now hated school…and reading.
Which model are you implementing in your school?
Crisis in the Kindergarten-U.S. Department of Education: http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED504839.pdf
Scientists Say Child’s Play Helps Build A Better Brain:
The Importance of Free, Unstructured Play: http://www.drkwamebrown.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Barreiro-Free-Unstructured-Play.pdf
Why Children Need More Unstructured Play
Recess-It’s Indispensable! https://www.naeyc.org/files/yc/file/200909/On%20Our%20Minds%20909.pdf
Cutting Recess Isn’t the Answer to Higher Test Scores
Recess: Is it Needed in the 21st Century?
The Relationship Between Student Engagement, Recess and Instructional Strategies https://etd.ohiolink.edu/!etd.send_file?accession=bgsu1344449012&disposition=inline
Recess Makes Kids Smarter
Recess In Schools: Disposable or Essential?
Recess In the Elementary School: What Does the Research Say?
The Importance of Freeplay: A look at the Evidence
THE CRUCIAL ROLE OF RECESS IN SCHOOL: COUNCIL ON SCHOOL HEALTH