The playground at Lucy’s school is a sight to behold, the sort of thing that reassures a parent who is concerned about the lack of physical activity taking place in public schools these days. The equipment on the playground at the school is literally brand new – it was installed last week – and cost thousands of dollars that were donated by the PTA. As an outsider, you would look at this playground and think, Seusslike, “oh, the games they can play! The imagines they can imagine! The running, jumping, climbing they can run, jump, climb!” The children have not actually used the equipment yet because the county hasn’t come to put down the mulch, but you can just picture them out there, flying spaceships to the moon, digging for dinosaur bones, constructing cities and forests and castles.
Which they will get to do, as it turns out, for roughly ten minutes per day. That’s right – thousands of dollars for a beautiful, faith-restoring playground that by dictate of the Board of Education these elementary school-aged children may use for a maximum of twenty minutes per day. Twenty minutes that includes the time necessary to get them out of the classroom and onto the playground and then back off the playground and into to the classroom. If you’ve ever tried this with even one elementary school-aged child, I’m guessing you’ll agree that my estimate of ten minutes of actual playtime is in fact quite generous.
It’s not just that every public health expert who can get any airtime at all spends every available second decrying the obesity epidemic in this country. It’s not just that, in the next breath, those same public health experts lament the spread of said epidemic to our youth, who are, to paraphrase, fat and inactive. It’s not just that a fat and inactive populace presents problems both obvious and obscure for our culture, workforce, and yes, security. It’s not even that there’s a vast body of research telling us that children need both unstructured playtime and physical activity to develop into healthy, happy adults. Notice how recess conveniently provides both unstructured playtime and physical activity in the same time block! It’s positively interdisciplinary! But that’s not it.
No, it’s really that playing is fun. And, as it turns out, also educational. How about that – fun can be educational! Or, put another way, education can be fun. This is hardly a revolutionary idea, seeing how kindergarten (which my brother has informed me I should not be capitalizing) itself was developed almost two hundred years ago on the theory that children learn through play. Friedrich Froebel, the inventor of kindergarten, did not intend it to be academic. Or, more accurately, he did not accept the premise that play is antithetical to academic learning. Children are supposed to play! It’s how they learn not just reading and writing and mathematics, but also how to live in society. It's how they learn who they are and what it is to be part of a community. Come to think of it, most adults in our country could do with a fair bit more playtime, too.
Twenty (that is, ten) minutes of recess in a seven hour school day? I have a call in to the Board of Education. Stay tuned.