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Let our kids be kids

by FRENCH HILL AND DEAN KUMPURIS Special to the Democrat-Gazette | July 8, 2018 at 1:57 a.m.

It was encouraging to read Cynthia Howell's recent reporting that 24 elementary schools in the state would participate in an extended recess pilot program for the 2018-19 school year. It is sad that we have to do a pilot program for recess and not have a permanent change. But this is an important move, and it is long overdue.

Over the last three decades, states and school districts have demanded more and more academic subjects be wedged into the traditional school day at ever younger ages. Many of these requirements are worthwhile, yet test scores remain stagnant and mediocre and in most instances, no changes were made in the amount of time students spend on school campuses. To accommodate the increasing academic requirements, districts have abandoned vital activities such as unstructured play at recess.

Rapidly rising rates of obesity and increasing levels of sedentary behavior, i.e., sitting for hours in front of a screen of some type, have exacerbated the negative effects of lack of activity including unstructured play. For young people--boys in particular--strapping them into classroom seats for hours on end is not the ideal learning environment. Sure, some kids do fine, but many don't, and the resulting lack of improvement is a contributing factor to poor grades in middle school, lack of interest in success, and increasing numbers of students being diagnosed as ADHD.

In reviewing the literature on early childhood development and education, one finds real value in unstructured play, particularly for the kindergarten through elementary school years. We encourage parents and teachers to read Richard Louv's best-seller Last Child in the Woods and Leonard Sax's Boys Adrift.

Dr. Sax notes that that in more than 50 years of research on child development it is well-established that multi-sensory interaction with the real world is critical to properly raising children and having them not only be socially well adjusted, but also learn capably. Sax argues that it's important to gain knowledge learned "through books," but also critically to "know by experience."

David Elkind, author of The Power of Play, noted in the March 2012 Scouting magazine that kids have "lost eight hours of unstructured play and outdoor activities in the past two decades." A recent Nature Conservancy poll found that only 10 percent of American teens spend time outside every day. This concept of no nature and lack of unstructured play certainly has been replaced by a stunning rise in indoor activity. Louv quotes a fourth grader in San Diego saying, "I like to play indoors because that's where all the electrical outlets are."

As noted above and thoughtfully assessed by Dr. Sax, boys particularly benefit from this play-oriented interactive approach. As we know, boys do not mature as quickly as girls. Thus, many parents hold boys back in starting school. Additionally, forcing boys to sit in their seats all day is a tall order. As founder of the Boy Scout movement Robert Baden-Powell said, "A boy is not a sitting-down animal!"

It is for all of these reasons that we have been avid supporters of youth outdoor recreation opportunities such as Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Likewise, the city of Little Rock has made a significant investment, along with support by many private contributors, to enhancing our city parks and playgrounds to include more unstructured play opportunities in exploration, creeks and pools, tunnels and climbing experiences.

Further, the city's establishment of the Bill Clark Wetlands and the recent opening of River Island adjacent to the Clinton Presidential Park are terrific advances in exponential learning so highly valued by Dr. Sax.

It's also encouraging to see the outdoor kindergarten movement come to Little Rock as well. We commend Rachel Parker and her work in establishing Little Rock's first outdoor kindergarten, Preschool at Pfeifer Kiwanis Camp. Its students, ages 3 to 5, spend 60 percent of their instruction time outdoors learning in a hands-on way.

Baden-Powell routinely reminded the very formal parents of his day at the turn of the 20th century, "Play is the first great educator." Well-implemented unstructured play and a return of recess will enhance student engagement and learning.

French Hill represents the Second District of Arkansas in the U.S. House of Representatives, and Dr. Dean Kumpuris is a member of the board of directors of the City of Little Rock.

Editorial on 07/08/2018

Print Headline: Let our kids be kids


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