“All work and no play” is not the motto that schools should be following. Research shows that there are many benefits to utilizing playgrounds in schools. These positive developments span across a broad spectrum that increase physical, social, and cognitive well being.
Disappearing Play Time
In some schools, recess times are decreasing because school is thought to be a place for learning and not play. Many schools have also forbidden running during recess time to prevent injuries. The APA (American Pediatric Association) has recommended that children need 60 minutes of open-ended play daily. Research has shown that a decline in play correlates with behavioral changes, decreased test scores, childhood obesity, increased diagnosis of ADHD, and stunted social, cognitive, and creative development.
Why Playing Matters
There are many areas of a child’s activity in school that is proven to improve with recess times that include playgrounds. Child psychologists and educators consider school playgrounds important for a child’s social and cognitive development. More time spent in recess correlates with an improvement in the ability for children to learn and results in better behavior during class time. Children with an ADHD diagnosis show a reduction in symptoms when they spend time on the playground. Playing outside also increases exposure to the sun, which raises vitamin D levels. Higher levels of vitamin D, in turn, show a positive correlation with increased learning.
A common criticism of playgrounds in schools is that unstructured play time can enable bullying and other negative interactions between children. On the contrary, modern playgrounds can reduced bullying due to children being too stimulated to engage in negative activities. One study showed that introducing playgrounds to schools without playgrounds increased overall attendance. Another study showed that children’s reported happiness in school has a positive correlation with their reported comfort and confidence during recess.
Learning vs Play: Why Not Both?
Playgrounds are also beneficial because they could incorporate lessons from the classroom into hands-on experiences. All the senses come into play and help strengthen and grow many areas of the brain. Science classes could apply lessons with nature to outdoor play. PE classes could use playground equipment to help exercise and increase motor skill development. The playground also teaches important life skills. Children learn to share, take turns, and communicate effectively. Also on the playground, imaginative play is inevitable. This fosters the growth of individual imagination, problem solving, and personal development that children can apply across the all areas in school.
There are many positive reasons why playgrounds are important in schools. If parents and educators want to help their children thrive in school, playgrounds are an essential component of daily school routines. The overall well-being of a child’s educational experience increases with the opportunity to play.