Title: The Benefits of Play
Submitted by Mary Decker
From Chapter 11 – Peers, Friends, and Play
Play is an integral part of every child’s life. It makes for happy, imaginative kids. Surprisingly, its benefits are bountiful in the academic realm as well. The text defines play as, “behavior that has no immediate function and is pleasurable, spontaneous, flexible, and internally controlled” (Bergin & Bergin, 2012). There are many types of play that vary in their cognitive involvement and amount of social involvement. These range from functional play with repetitive movements, to prearranged, rule-based games. A child could simply passively watch someone play, or play cooperatively with a group goal. The particular kind of play in which a child participates can be an indication of his/her cognitive and social development (Bergin & Bergin, 2012).
Some researchers advocate scaffolding play to help students develop the skills inherent in more mature recreation. They posit that, due to our changing cultural constructs, students have less natural opportunities to develop play skills. “Massive changes in the culture of childhood—such as the disappearance of multiage play groups, the increase in time children spend in adult-directed activities after school, and so on—mean that, for many young children, early childhood settings are the only place where they have the opportunity to learn how to play” (Bodrova & Leong, 2012). This theory is quite Vygotskyan in nature and suggests that modeling play allows students the opportunity to advance through the stages and thus gain skills more quickly than in an unstructured setting.
There are other things that educators can do in the school setting to promote healthy levels of playtime. One is to promote and support recess. This can be difficult when a child has unfinished work that must be completed, or when the removal of recess is one of the only effective punishments for a child. However, the benefits of recess far outweigh these advantages of restricting it. These include cognitive, social-emotional, and physical advantages. For example, research shows that recall is improved when instruction is chunked, instead of given in lengthy doses. Recess provides an opportunity for previous knowledge to be organized within the brain. At recess, children can also practice their prosocial skills, such as negotiation during free choice situations and conflict resolution when issues arise (Jarrett & Waite-Stupiansky, 2009).
Despite these positive outcomes, recess is definitely not a certainty in all schools, even at the elementary level. A 2006 survey given by the Centers for Disease Control found that daily recess is only provided in 79% of elementary classrooms (Adams, 2011). Recess time may be restricted due to new demands on schools through No Child Left Behind. Administrators want students to have more time to learn the core subjects. Recess is also frequently withheld for behavioral reasons. However, the disparities inherent in the statistics are frightening: “You are less likely to get recess if you are African-American (39 percent don’t have recess, compared to 15 percent of whites), living below the poverty line (44 percent of poor children don’t have recess versus 17 percent of others), or struggling academically (25 percent of kids who scored below the mean on a standardized test versus 15 percent of those above did not have recess), according to research in a 2003 issue of Teachers College Record” (Adams, 2011). On an individual level, teachers must be very careful about their use of taking away recess as a punishment. This opportunity for play is necessary for the well-rounded development of all children.
Adams, Caralee. (2011). Recess makes kids smarter. Instructor. http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/article/recess-makes-kids-smarter#top.
Bergin, C. C., & Bergin, D. A. (2012). Child and adolescent development in your classroom. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Cengage Learning.
Bodrova, Elena and Leong, Deborah. (2012). Assessing and scaffolding make-believe play. Young Children. 28-34. http://www.naeyc.org/files/yc/file/201201/Leong_Make_Believe_Play_Jan2012.pdf
Jarrett, Olga and Waite-Stupiansky, Sandra. (2009). Recess – it’s indispensable! Young Children. 66-69. http://www.naeyc.org/files/yc/file/200909/On%20Our%20Minds%20909.pdf
1. What sorts of information have you been able to glean about your students through your observation of their playtime?
2. How do you feel about scaffolding playtime for young children? Is it beneficial or micro managerial? Why?
3. How do you feel about the current amount of recess given in your school setting (if any)? Can you detect a difference in behavior and learning in your students post-recess?
4. Have you even taken away recess as a punishment? What was your reasoning? Do you regret that decision or stand by it?