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Posted by on in Movement and Play

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Quirky confession. 

When we moved to a new state and were trying to zero in on a place to land, I perused elementary school websites over and over to assess how much time they allowed for recess.  That was one of my first factors to compare.

It seems like a strange marker for school quality to many, but to me it signals an awareness of the needs of the whole child and not just a perspective of the student as a "disembodied mind".

I thought I might be the only mom with a funny hang up about recess.

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Posted by on in Movement and Play

My kids started school this week, and the first day of school report was filled with excitement.  Through the retelling of the day’s activities, two takeaways thrilled me the most.  My kindergartener was practicing moves and songs referencing brain breaks and GoNoodle (www.gonoodle.com) videos.  He talked about the importance of getting up to move and reducing the butterfly jitters some kids were feeling.  I felt so proud of how grown-up he seemed while also feeling sentimental of my youngest heading off to school!   

My fourth grader was also ecstatic after her first day.  She talked nonstop about the day’s adventures.  At one point she mentioned how her class went on a walk. We drilled her with questions:  Where did you go?  Did it occur just because it was the first day? Did you tour the school?  She mentioned that her teacher said it was important for them to get outside and walk every day.   

In these times  when schools are cutting recess time to fill the day with academics and other mandated activities, the direction these two teachers, at different schools, were taking was thrilling.  I’m excited for my kids to experience what these teachers have to offer.  Of course academics are important.  Of course, social and emotional learning is important.  However, all three are positively impacted through movement activities, large and small.   

Teachers at all levels have different comfort level with using movement.  Brain breaks can involve songs and silly movements, but also can be as simple as having students get up out of their seats and moving to a different location or stretching at their desks. Movement can be intense or it can be a stress-free experience of simply taking a short walk around campus. The comfort level teachers have changes as teachers continue to practice and incorporate movement weekly and daily.   

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Posted by on in Movement and Play

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Adam’s little feet were scampering on the sidewalk as only a two-year-old’s feet can as I quickly followed to keep pace with him. As soon as he saw his first stick that day he stopped, picked it up, looked at me excitedly and shouted: “Mam patyk tata!” (I have a stick daddy!). He’s my kind of dude. Adores being outside. Loves playing with sticks. Picks them up whenever he can. Carries them around. Hits objects, sometimes people, with them. Brings them home where he usually forgets about them. But today was different. For both of us.

It’s April and the maple trees are budding in Minnesota. It was a warm enough day that I didn’t mind him sitting on the pavement and exploring. He sat down and started using his newfound tool to pluck the maple buds that fell off the branches above out of the cracks in the sidewalk. While doing this, the stick broke. He looked at me and said: “Zepsułem,” which means "I broke it" in Polish. He continued digging the buds out and the thin dried up stick broke once more, at which point Adam seemed to lose interest in the buds and decided to focus on sticks.

He noticed a big tree with a goldmine of broken twigs lying around it down the block and darted toward it, me in tow. While in the past he’d pick one or two up, now he was picking them up in bunches as if he were gathering kindling for a fire. This was quite interesting, because I know that he has no idea about this sort of use for fallen sticks. Of course this wasn’t why he was picking so many of them up, but I immediately got an idea that he will now be able to, and absolutely love helping me gather wood for the fire when we start going camping in a couple of months. We’ll brave the mosquitoes and poison ivy together….

He carried the sticks onto the sidewalk, threw what had to be a dozen of them down, and immediately proceeded to breaking them into smaller pieces. He did not just break each stick into two. He kept breaking each until it got so small his little hands could no longer apply enough force to fragment it. I was so fascinated with all I was observing and learning that I don’t recall what exact phrases he was using to talk about what he’s doing, but I know he was making associations between “big” and “small” and the fact that bigger sticks are more difficult to break.

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Posted by on in Movement and Play

PlayIt

I was so excited listening to Rae Pica’s program,” How Play Supports Brain Development”. Her two guests, both experts in the field of early learning, emphasized how play is not an option for children. Children’s brains need play like a thirsty runner needs water! Children’s brains run on play. So why would parents worry if their children play in preschool or kindergarten?

I suspect there are many reasons, including that many parents’ early memories of school include academic instruction, and perhaps their struggles with it. Parents don’t want their children to struggle and they acquire the mistaken notion that doing worksheets and flashcards will give their children an edge. They want to see their kids buckle down and learn, darn it! Play looks too, well, uh…fun.

Another reason, I suspect, is that when they shop for preschools, they run into some programs that say they are play-based, but do not know how to make play the center of learning for the children. The teachers do not have the training to scaffold children’s skills to go deeply into their interests, to pursue and develop their ideas in play. The play these parents see is not high-quality play. It is not avid, creative learning. It is just, well, let’s be frank—goofing around. Flitting from activity to activity. I know this from what my college students tell me.

The most important fact, in my mind, is that mature, high-quality play is creative. Creativity is an innate part of cognition. Once I had a pre-K student who noticed that birds seemed to poop all over the playground picnic tables. He developed a hypothesis that if he made a bird toilet, our picnic table would be cleaner. In the classroom, working for over a week, he used constructive materials (boxes, tubes, and magazine pictures) to create his bird toilet. On the seat, he glued a picture of worms to attract the birds so that they would be motivated to use the facility rather than our picnic table. In the process, he explained his contraption (oral language; cognitive development), asked others to find materials for him (social development), and through trial and error, created his invention. He tested his hypothesis outdoors. Now I would love to tell you that the birds flocked (no pun intended) to his creation, but of course, this didn’t happen. What did happen is that other children began forming ideas of inventions they thought might be needed and began creating them. The bird toilet itself was used on the playground for imaginative, if bathroom oriented, play by many children!

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Posted by on in Movement and Play

BREAKTIME

At her elementary school science fair, my granddaughter explained her poster and experiment with the great fervor an almost ten-year-old can muster. She and her friend, who is in California on a family sabbatical, decided to prove once and for all that recess improves learning, or at least puts students in a receptive mood so they can benefit from classroom instruction.

No doubt they got the idea for their experiment from listening to their parents’ conversations about the importance of recess. The Great Recess Debate has been raging in our community since parents and a school board member asked for a “recess as a right rather than a privilege” policy. You would have thought the sky had fallen given the opposition from administrators, the school board, and some teachers.

The question my granddaughter and her friend decided to explore for the science fair was, “Does the amount of recess affect your mood.” Their main hypothesis was that it does, and as a result it impacts learning. As background, they offered the following facts:

  1. Some schools have cut recess because they think it gives kids more time to learn.
  2. Studies show that after recess kids pay better attention in class.
  3. People have better moods after they exercise.

Their methods may seem naïve, but they decided to compare their moods in the morning, after the child in California had recess while my granddaughter had none, their moods after lunch when both had recess, and their moods in the afternoon when neither had recess. They used a scale that measured moods ranging from alert, excited elated, happy, contented, serene, relaxed, calm, fatigued, bored, depressed, sad, upset, stressed, nervous, and tense. Did I mention three out of four of their parents have PhDs in child psychology?

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