All Work and No Play: The Importance of Balancing School & Play
Debora B. Wisneski, PhD, is Associate Professor and the John T. Langan Professor in Early Childhood Education in the Teacher Education Department at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. She is Past President of the Association for Childhood Education International and former Steering Committee Member of the US Play Coalition. She serves on the local board of directors for Educare of Omaha, The Rose Theater, and Spielbound. She has taught for over 30 years at the preschool, kindergarten, and higher education levels. She is a reviewer for the professional journals- Teaching and Teacher Education and the American Journal for Play- and serves on the Editorial Board for the Asia-Pacific Journal of Research in Early Childhood Education. Wisneski earned her BSEd. And MEd. in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis in early childhood education at the University of Missouri-Columbia and earned her doctorate at the University of Texas-Austin in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis in early childhood education.
Carol Burk lives and plays with her family in Omaha Nebraska. She currently is a Preschool/Head Start Teacher for Omaha Public Schools and teaches university undergraduate courses on play in education.
- Ask school officials how much time is afforded to students for free play -- outdoors and indoors. What are the recess policies? How is play part of the school day?
- Engage teachers in conversation about teaching through play and limiting the amount of homework.
- Advocate for longer and/or more recess. Many teachers and principals feel empowered to make positive change when they know they have families’ support.
- Plan unstructured free play time in your child’s schedule. You can visit public parks, children’s museums, and adventure playgrounds.
- Participate and join your children in play. Volunteer to go to your child’s classroom and play games. Organize a family board game night in your neighborhood.
For parents of children entering elementary school, the transition to the rigors and new expectations of school may seem daunting. In the U.S., there has been concern regarding school-age children’s health and well-being related to obesity and mental illness particularly pertaining to stress, anxiety, and depression, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Parents have been cautioned against overscheduling of children’s free time and too much homework as schools across the country have diminished recess as a form of free play during the school day. Child psychologists have recognized that the lack of play in the elementary years is contributing to children’s lack of well-being.
Research has demonstrated that play is beneficial for kids’ development and learning throughout the school years. However, the play of older children is different than in the early years. The pretend play with baby dolls gradually turns into sophisticated storytelling. A Candyland game is replaced with a more difficult challenge like Chess. A quick game of catch transforms into sport games. As children develop, their play becomes more intricate and challenging and as play becomes more complex, children develop cognitively, physically, and emotionally. Hence, organized and free play in and out of school is critical for all children.
Outdoor play during traditional recess times is beneficial for children in helping them maintain positive mental states, keeping physically fit, and doing better academically.
With more recesses, children do better in academics, engage in more physical activity, and have better emotional states. Big body play is a great way to settle a restless class and children pay better attention when they have movement breaks.
There are other free play activities beyond the physical games of recess. For example, board games help children learn important subjects such as math, literacy, and problem solving. Also, maker-spaces and adventure playgrounds where children can build and make things help develop problem-solving skills and creativity.