Like many of you, I live in the Midwest. The winters are cold, and they seem to drag on forever. And after the holidays, the novelty of cold and snow gives way to the pain of spring fever (by the way, it is spring, and we still are wearing our winter coats). As the mom of a 3-year-old, I know how important getting outside and playing is — for well-being as well as health.
Adults need their playtime, too. The country is in an economic crisis, we still have soldiers at war, and unemployment rates have skyrocketed. Breathing in some warm air and getting some exercise can give us all a needed break.
So when I read a new study by the Alliance for Childhood, it was a little concerning. Play time going away: huh?
The studies were conducted by researchers at UCLA, Long Island (N.Y.) University and Sarah Lawrence College (N.Y.). Their findings, documented in "Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School," revealed that on a typical day, kindergartners in Los Angeles and New York City spend four to six times as long being instructed and tested in literacy and math (two to three hours per day) as in free play or "choice time" (30 minutes or less). Standardized testing and preparation for tests now are a daily activity in most of the kindergartens studied, and in many kindergartens, there is no playtime at all.
According to the studies, many people believe that kindergartners need to settle down and engage in serious learning. They see play as a "waste of time, or worse, a descent into chaos."
Among other things, the report calls for a refocusing of early education on well-designed play-based approaches. It says that numerous studies have shown that children who engage in complex socio-dramatic play develop higher levels of thinking, stronger language skills, better social skills, more empathy and more imagination than children who do not play in this way. Play also lowers stress levels in children.
I'd venture to add that a little more playtime might lower stress levels in adults, too.
Lustig is executive editor of AS&U.