Critical Minds, Compassionate Hearts

A Few Words from Bud

Bud Lichtenstein
The Benefits of Unstructured Play and the Importance of Recess. Recess is deeply important. Here are a few thoughts.
Can unstructured, peer-to-peer play help kids develop critical cognitive, regulatory, and emotional skills? As progressive educators, we have known this for much of the past hundred years. The work of developmental theorists Piaget and Vygotsky pioneered this work. New research today only amplifies these findings.
 
“When children learn to rely on themselves for playtime – improvising props, making up games and stories – they’re developing critical cognitive skills, including an important one called executive functioning…Essentially, executive function is the ability to regulate one’s own behavior – a key skill for controlling emotions, resisting impulses, and exerting self-control and discipline.”
 
Many children in our current world have limited experience with unstructured, peer-to-peer play. Increasingly TV shows, videos, computer games, and hand held solo games dominate our children’s lives. Children, often have much of their play structured and filtered by adults. One small example is the movement to have kids on sports teams at younger and younger ages. Many children who spend their days at schools where they have little unstructured time (decreased recess time is happening across the country) then go home to music lessons, sports teams and dance classes. The lack of old fashioned dense neighborhoods and the “diasporization” of extended families (lack of cousin contact) only compound the challenge.
 
Every elementary educator understands this trend. We see an increasing number of children whose executive functioning is compromised. The impact on these children in school is that they are often less available for learning. More of their time and efforts are going toward regulating their impulses, behaviors and emotions than focusing on the academic skills of learning. It is not that they do not have the ability to learn the skills. Their minds and bodies are just busy practicing and learning some of the basics of regulation and are not ready for some of the typical expectations of school.    
 
For physical, social-emotional, and cognitive health reasons, we believe that recess is as important as any other time of the school day.  
 
 
I also found an important article last weekend in the Boston Globe about the importance of helping children build resilience and confidence in their own skills deal with inevitable conflicts that occur in childhood. I’d love to know your thoughts on this topic.
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