The Importance of Play in the Elementary Grades

When I talk about my childhood versus my husband's childhood, there is enough of an age difference between us that we had remarkably different experiences. We also grew up in different states so I am sure that has something to do with it and ultimately when it comes to the culture of a classroom it can be very different from that of the ones cultivated in other classrooms. For example, currently there are school districts where recess is not allowed. There are school districts where they do have recess, but kids only have one 15 minute recess. I recently heard of a school that was trying a new idea and they implemented four 15 minute recesses. When I look back at my childhood we had a solid 30-40 minute recess, sometimes two recesses. Even if we did not have two whole recesses, I don't recall sitting at a desk all day. We did various projects or hands on activities and there always seemed to be enough time to play inside as well. For example, when I was in first grade I had an older teacher. She was toward the end of her career, close to retirement. Looking back, I now believe it is because she was an older teacher and had a strong foundation in early childhood that she made sure we still had centers in first grade. I do not recall what the entire room looked like and all the centers that it may have had, but I do recall being a child that loved puzzles and I have memories of doing that. I also have memories of being in the play house area in first grade. I have a distinct memory of sitting on the floor with my friend next to me and we each had our own doll we were taking care of. This same friend played with me outside during recess. I also spent a lot of time playing hand games with this friend while we were waiting for the bell to ring in the morning and after eating lunch in the cafeteria. Basically, I recall many instances of being able to socialize with other kids and share ideas with other kids. I do not recall an adult ever interfering during this time. It was our time to just be kids. By interfering, I mean I do not recall being shushed or told to speak more softly. I certainly knew the adults were around and they were always there to help.

Some time ago, I had a mother tell me that she had taken her daughter out of first grade because she was required to sit most of the day and her daughter kept getting in trouble for talking and not being able to sit. At this point her daughter was already an adult, but she was explaining to me why she had chosen a different education path for her children. I was confused. "Didn't they have a play house and other centers?" I asked. She told me that all they had in the room were desks. There were no opportunities for play inside. I was confused. No play? How could that be? I had gone to first grade just a decade or so earlier maybe a little more. Can that much change in that short of time? Yes. I already knew centers were out of Kindergarten let alone first grade, but I hadn't realized it had started so long ago. Working in a school, I realized things do change quickly. One instant we were under certain standards and the following year we had new standards and new curriculum. I remember being told by an administrator, "Those that cannot adapt to the changes, leave." There can be a lot of intimidation to simply do as one is told.

Fast forward to today, when I stumble across this lovely article  by First Grade at Last. She is deciding to put a play kitchen in her first grade classroom. This is after centers like this have been out of many first grade classrooms for more than twenty years. You can read the article for yourself, but she has the research to back up her decision. I do not know much about her, but I wish her luck in this new endeavor. I hope that she works under a compassionate and understanding leadership. I hope that if they ever question her new center, they give her the chance to reason and explain why it is benefiting her kids. A long time has passed and we have seen what lack of play has done to our children. Let us really consider what we are doing and try to put back some of the things that research tells us belong in the primary grades. Even if nothing much else changes, at least the children will have some way to release their stress. For children are feeling so much pressure these days and being put on anxiety medication at younger and younger ages.

August 21 2016
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