"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Why Play Comes Naturally and KIPP Doesn't

The segregated KIPP brainwashing camps for poor children see recess as an intrusion to their constant control of each child's directed attention, all focused on the Feinberg-Levin point at a distant horizon that requires each child to give up his childhood if she is to have any chance of getting there. What old and new research tells us is that such play-scrubbed children as the KIPPsters have less of a chance to be high-performing and functional adults--if you mean by "functional" the ability to discern differences, solve problems, and navigate hierarchies. But then if you are looking to build drones . . .

From the NYTimes by Tara Parker-Pope:
The best way to improve children’s performance in the classroom may be to take them out of it.

New research suggests that play and down time may be as important to a child’s academic experience as reading, science and math, and that regular recess, fitness or nature time can influence behavior, concentration and even grades.

A study published this month in the journal Pediatrics studied the links between recess and classroom behavior among about 11,000 children age 8 and 9. Those 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 were more likely to be denied recess, the association between better behavior and recess time held up even after researchers controlled for a number of variables, including sex, ethnicity, public or private school and class size.

The lead researcher, Dr. Romina M. Barros, a pediatrician and an assistant clinical professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, said the findings were important because many schools did not view recess as essential to education.

And many children are not getting that break. In the Pediatrics study, 30 percent were found to have little or no daily recess. Another report, from a children’s advocacy group, found that 40 percent of schools surveyed had cut back at least one daily recess period.

Also, teachers often punish children by taking away recess privileges. That strikes Dr. Barros as illogical. “Recess should be part of the curriculum,” she said. “You don’t punish a kid by having them miss math class, so kids shouldn’t be punished by not getting recess.”

Last month, Harvard researchers reported in The Journal of School Health that the more physical fitness tests children passed, the better they did on academic tests. The study, of 1,800 middle school students, suggests that children can benefit academically from physical activity during gym class and recess.

A small study of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder last year found that walks outdoors appeared to improve scores on tests of attention and concentration. Notably, children who took walks in natural settings did better than those who walked in urban areas, according to the report, published online in August in The Journal of Attention Disorders. The researchers found that a dose of nature worked as well as a dose of medication to improve concentration, or even better.

Andrea Faber Taylor, a child environment and behavior researcher at the Landscape and Human Health Laboratory at the University of Illinois, says 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 courtyards scored better on concentration tests than those who did not.

The reason may be that the brain uses two forms of attention. “Directed” attention allows us to concentrate on work, reading and tests, while “involuntary” attention takes over when we’re distracted by things like running water, crying babies, a beautiful view or a pet that crawls onto our lap.

Directed attention is a limited resource. Long hours in front of a computer or studying for a test can leave us feeling fatigued. But spending time in natural settings appears to activate involuntary attention, giving the brain’s directed attention time to rest.

“It’s pretty clear that all human beings experience attentional fatigue,” Dr. Faber Taylor said. “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 not only for learning but also for health and development.

Young rats denied opportunities for rough-and-tumble play develop numerous social problems in adulthood. They fail to recognize social cues and the nuances of rat hierarchy; they aren’t able to mate. By the same token, people who play as children “learn to handle life in a much more resilient and vital way,” said Dr. Stuart Brown, the author of the new book “Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul” (Avery).

Dr. Brown, a psychiatrist in Carmel Valley, Calif., has collected more than 6,000 “play histories” from human subjects. The founder of the National Institute for Play, 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,” he said. “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.”


  1. In reading your article, I completely agree that taking out recess from a child’s daily routine is a detriment to their overall academic success. Is the removal of recess in KIPP schools because of lack of funding or desire for more control? Recess is the only time when children are freely allowed to socialize and I believe that the removal of this will stunt social development. Children are scolded when they socialize during class, so I think that taking away recess only further encourages them to act out during class. Do you think that the manipulation of recess is successful for teachers such as removing recess privileges when a child misbehaves? As an educator, do you believe there are more useful methods available? What long-term effects could you see occurring if schools removed recess altogether? It is interesting to note that in all major studies recess and physical activity have been helpful to student learning, yet schools are so quick to cut out recess and cut back on physical education programs. With the current increase of children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, it seems as though it would be crucial for recess programs to remain. The Journal of School Health reported that, “The more physical tests children passed, the better they did on academic tests. The study of 1,800 middle school students, suggests that children can benefit academically from physical activity during gym class and recess.” With all of the evidence found supporting recess and physical activity it is disturbing that the government and school districts can so quickly disregard all of this information. According to Tara Parker-Pope in your blog, “Direct attention is a limited resource. Long hours in front of a computer or studying fro a test can leave us feeling fatigued. But spending time in natural settings appears to activate involuntary attention giving the brain’s directed attention time to rest.” After reading your blog and the New York Times article I am a firm believer that recess is crucial to a child’s overall development and future success. It is of the utmost importance to let a child remain a child.

  2. Anonymous12:04 PM

    The previous entry is excellent.

    But when you get past the cogent analysis and appeal to common sense and basic, simple, humanity, what we have here is CHILDREN BEING POTENTIALLY DAMAGED AND HURT.

    This deserves even more than a fine analysis and concientious argument---WHEN DO WE

    These are CHILDREN we are talking about,
    for Godsakes.
    We have established programs that ABUSE amd MIS-TEACH them ON A MASS-SCALE.

    These are not errors--They are CRIMES!!

    We need to stop being so dispassionate about them and wear a fully-justified sense of outrage when we discuss these issues.

    Our adversaries (NCLB/KIPP-advocates, etc)
    DESERVE to hear the full force of righteous anger IN THEIR FACES for their mis-deeds.

    We Educators need to start making it uncomfortable for the Powers-That-Be to continue to spout and promote their toxic "Reform-Movement"-spawned ideas.
    and policies.

    Otherwise, we are just rolling over--for Evil.