Kinders read more, play less

Kindergarteners are reading more and playing less, concludes a University of Virginia study.

In 1998, before No Child Left Behind put the focus on achievement gaps, 31 percent of kindergarten teachers expected their students to learn to read that year. By 2010, 80 percent believed kindergarteners should be learning to read.

Seventy-three percent of kindergarteners took a standardized test in 2010. That’s more than first graders took in 1998. Kindergarten teachers weren’t asked about testing. writes NPR’s Anya Kamenetz.

Fewer teachers offer music and art every day and there were “notable drops in teachers saying they covered science topics like dinosaurs and outer space, which kids this age find really engaging,” says Daphna Bassok, the study’s lead author.

There were large, double-digit decreases in the percentages of teachers who said their classrooms had areas for dress-up, a water or sand table, an art area or a science/nature area. And teachers who offered at least an hour a day of student-driven activities dropped from 54 to 40 percent. At the same time, whole-class, teacher-led instruction rose along with the use of textbooks and worksheets.

However, children are more likely to have recess and just as likely to have a P.E. class.

With the sharp rise in preschool enrollment, teachers may expect more from students, writes Kamenetz. That leads to a sort of academic arms race: 1 in 5 kindergarteners is already six years old as more parents may wait a year to enroll a child who’s not ready for reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic and testing.

Recess for high schoolers

Recess isn’t just for the little kids in Montpelier, Vermont, reports Edutopia. Every day, Montpelier High students get a 15-minute break to play Frisbee or basketball, practice yoga or meditation, do art projects or jam in a band. “Students unplug from the curriculum, from stress, and from electronics.”

Structured play makes recess ‘safe’

Children play at Concord Elementary in Edina, Minnesota.

A “recess consultant” will design “structured” play at two Edina, Minnesota elementary schools, reports the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Playworks promises to teach children to replace “Hey, you’re out!” with “good job” or “nice try.”

The two schools have joined a growing number of districts that have hired consultants to remake the playground experience into more structured and inclusive play time. The games and activities, like four square and jumping rope, are overseen by adults and designed to reduce disciplinary problems while ensuring that no children are left out.

Parents and students have complained about the new, structured recess.

Caroline Correia’s fourth-grade son, Liam, doesn’t like the limited choice of games.  “He feels like that’s not playing anymore,” she said.

Roughhousing is “essential to childhood development,” writes Virginia Postrel in response to a ban on tag that was imposed — and then rescinded –– in Mercer Island, Washington.

Rowdy, physical play teaches kids to communicate verbally and nonverbally; to take turns; to negotiate rules; and to understand when they can use their full strength and when they need to hold back.

“Maybe we should think twice about making recess as joyless and authoritarian as the rest of the school day,” writes Robby Soave on Reason‘s Hit & Run.

Structured playtime may contribute to the campus safe-space movement, he suggests. “Is it any surprise that teens who have never enjoyed anything approaching actual freedom — who spent their purported free time being coached by paid consultants on the ‘right way’ to play with others — cringe in horror when they arrive at college and are finally on their own?”

Tag, you’re OK

Tag is back at school playgrounds on Mercer Island, near Seattle, reports the Seattle Times.

The district had banned tag — and any game involving touching — to protect students’ “physical and emotional safety.” In the past, tag has led to name-calling and minor injuries, district officials said.

Parent protests — and national mockery — forced the reversal.Tag-is-Back-on-Mercer-Island-School-Playgrounds-after-Attempted-Ban

Superintendent Gary Plano initially said schools would develop new “tag-like running games” with no contact. Now, children will be allowed to play tag at recess.

Some schools nationwide have banned contact games in the name of safety, said Jonathan Blasher, executive director of the nonprofit Playworks. Some don’t allow children to throw balls or use other playground equipment.

In 2006, some Spokane elementary schools prohibited tag because of safety concerns, he said.

“I think a game like tag is wonderful,” Blasher said. “You can play it almost anywhere, it’s universal. It’s important for kids to have that free-range play, where adults aren’t micromanaging, but there is the need for assurance that the kids have a basic understanding what the expectations are.”

Kelsey Joyce, a parent and tag defender, said her son and his friends play “four different types of tag,” reports the Seattle Times. That includes a version involving a “red-hot lava monster.”

Tag is unsafe, school tells kids

Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s Pieter Bruegel painted Children’s Games in 1560

Children have played tag for centuries, writes Lenore Skenazy on Reason‘s Hit & Run. It’s never been considered a dangerous game.

Tag — and other games in which children do not “keep their hands to themselves” —  have been banned by the Mercer Island School District near Seattle. The ban will protect the “physical and emotional safety” of students, wrote Mary Grady, the district’s communications director, in an email note to Q13Fox TV

I guess holding hands for Ring Around the Rosy also is verboten under the touching-is-dangerous rule.

Children have been playing tag since the time of Breugel — and possibly since the dawn of time — Skenazy writes. But today’s kids are too fragile?

Melissa Neher, the mother of two schoolchildren, started a Facebook campaign to alert parents to the ban.

“Kids should be free to have spontaneous play on the playground at recess,” she told Fox TV.  “I played tag” as a child. “I survived.”

Another mother brags she survived Red Rover. That was one of my favorites.

On the move in Finland

More Recess

Worried about passive, phone-tapping kids, Finnish schools are trying to get students moving, writes Tim Walker in The Atlantic. An American, Walker lives in Helsinki and teaches in a bilingual school.

Kids in Finland have short school days and frequent 15-minute breaks — typically there’s one after each 45-minute lesson. And even though the breaks keep them more focused in the classroom, they don’t necessarily keep them more active at school.

Under the “On the Move” initiative, his school has turned sixth graders into “recess activators” for first and graders. Older kids lead the younger ones in games, such as Banana Tag.

In the fall, a new schedule will combine short recesses into at least one 30-minute break. Students in grades seven through nine will choose activities, such as yogalates, floor hockey, or gymnastics.

Teachers also are looking for “strategies for getting students to be more active during lessons,” writes Walker. These include “energizers” (short breaks from sitting), allowing kids to complete work while standing or while sitting on large bouncy balls.

He’s replaced oral presentations, which tend to be dull and time consuming, with the “gallery walk.”

Students fasten their presentations to the walls of the classroom or hallway as if they were exhibiting their work in an art gallery. Each display is numbered and the children rotate from exhibit to exhibit systematically, spending a minute or two carefully studying each one. To make this experience more meaningful, students provide written-feedback to each other as they’re visiting each display. Before they start the active gallery walk, I hand out sticky notes in two different colors. On one color, my sixth graders write questions about the work for the presenter to consider and on the other, they jot down positive observations.

On the Finnish Report Card 2014 on Physical Activity for Children and Youth, Finnish kids received a “D” for physical activity levels, reports Walker, U.S. children earned a D- on the 2014 United States Report Card.

War Against Boys: The boys are losing

The War Against Boys still rages, writes Christina Hoff Sommers in the revised edition of her 2000 book.

The boys are losing, writes Nathan Glazer in an Education Next review. Schools continue to ignore boys’ “distinctive characteristics” and “the gap in school achievement between boys and girls” is “even more substantial and troubling.”

Sommers describes trends in education that hurt boys, including “the
ednext_XIV_3_waragainstboys_coverdecline of recess, punitive zero-tolerance policies, myths about juvenile ‘superpredators,’ and a misguided campaign against single-sex schooling.”

“As our schools become more feelings centered, risk averse, competition-free, and sedentary, they move further and further from the characteristic sensibilities of boys,” she writes.

“The movement to give special attention to girls and their needs was part of the grand drive to equality that has dominated American life and politics for decades,” writes Glazer, a Harvard professor emeritus in education and sociology. “But the drive for equality for the sexes was accompanied by a litigious and bureaucratic fervor that often went beyond common sense.”

Career tech programs that have engaged boys are under pressure to enroll more girls, Sommers writes. Few girls sign up for welding or pipefitting. Few boys want to be cosmetologists or child-care workers.

The Obama administration hopes to use the $1.1 billion Perkins Act to push more girls into “nontraditional” vocational and technical training, notes Glazer.

Sommers points out that in 2010 women made up 64 percent of graduate students in social science, 75 percent in public administration, 78 percent in veterinary medicine, and 80 percent in health sciences. Will that attract the attention of politicians and of bureaucrats enforcing Title IX?

Thirty-two percent of 27-year-old women have earned a four-year degree, compared to only 24 percent of men, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Kids who lose recess need it the most

The sort of students who are kept in for recess are the ones who need it the most, writes Jessica Lahey in a New York Times parenting blog.

“Recess offers cognitive, social, emotional, and physical benefits” that are “crucial” to growing children, states the American Academy of Pediatrics. 

Elementary principals overwhelmingly agree that recess helps academic achievement and social development, yet 77 percent take away recess as a punishment, according to a Gallup survey.

Self-control is not an unlimited resource, writes Lahey.

. . . by the time unstructured play rolls around, most children have depleted their reserves. They have had to resist the temptation to wiggle, eat the piece of cookie someone left on the carpet or talk to their friends in favor of focusing on math facts.

Recess provides an opportunity to refill children’s reserves of self-control through play and expression that’s free from structure, rules, and rigorous cognitive tasks. . . .  Several studies have found that students who enjoy the benefit of recess are more attentive, more productive and better able to learn when they return to the classroom from a period of free play.

“As our children’s schedules become more regimented and structured, and free-play time retreats indoors in favor of video games over kick the can and stickball, recess is the only opportunity many children have to learn” important social skills, Lahey concludes.

Chicago struggles with longer school day

Chicago had one of the shortest school days in the nation — five hours, 45 minutes — until fall of 2012, writes Sara Neufeld in The Atlantic. Mayor Rahm Emanuel added an extra hour and 15 minutes at elementary schools, an extra 30 minutes at high schools. (The school year is 10 days longer too.) However, extra time may not mean extra learning, writes Neufeld.

Chicago Public Schools’ deficit, caused largely by a crisis in pension funding, is estimated at $1 billion. CPS’ 400,000 students have more time to learn, but fewer teachers and support staff.  

“Funding is not there for a quality day, period, no matter the length,” said Wendy Katten, director of the advocacy group Raise Your Hand and mother of a fifth grader at Augustus H. Burley School.

The city initially hired hundreds of new teachers to help with the expanded schedule, since it could not afford to pay existing teachers to work longer hours. But now officials have eliminated more jobs than they created. At some schools, newly added art and music classes have been cut back, and the mandatory reintroduction of recess without funding for supervision has created a logistical nightmare.

In violence-ridden communities,”a later end to the regular academic day has left families worried about their kids getting home safely after dark if they stay to participate in after-school programs and sports.”

During his freshman and sophomore years, back when school let out at 2:31 p.m., Raul Arias played basketball and ran cross-country at the Marine Math and Science Academy. “I stopped last year as soon as the whole extended school day started,” said Arias, 17, a senior. He commutes an hour each way on public transportation to attend the military-themed magnet school instead of a subpar option in his neighborhood. “I have to worry more about myself going home than what I’ll actually be doing in school.”

In the 1970s, Chicago Public Schools cut short the school day to make sure students got home before dark, writes Neufeld.

The September 2012 teachers’ strike, “spurred partly by the fact that teachers were being asked to work more without a proportionate pay increase,” closed schools for seven days, writes Neufeld. A deal was struck: Elementary teachers work more hours, but get a longer break for lunch and planning. Students also get more time for lunch. 

Theodore Roosevelt High added five minutes to each class period to use the extra 30 minutes. It doesn’t help, says Tim Meegan, a board-certified social studies teacher. “There’s no way anyone can tell me kids are learning more because they’re in school longer.”

Second graders at Patrick Henry Elementary School follow along to an exercise video during indoor recess. (Armando L. Sanchez / Hechinger Report)

High-performing charters typically have a much longer school day and year, writes Matt Di Carlo. District schools that want to extend the day should consider that a little extra time may not be enough.

No-rules play lowers injuries, bullying

A New Zealand school that got rid of playground rules saw a “drop in bullying, serious injuries and vandalism, while concentration levels in class are increasing,” reports TVNZ. 

Chaos may reign at Swanson Primary School with children climbing trees, riding skateboards and playing bullrush during playtime, but surprisingly the students don’t cause bedlam, the principal says.

 “We want kids to be safe and to look after them, but we end up wrapping them in cotton wool when in fact they should be able to fall over,” says Principal Bruce McLachlan.

Swanson School worked with university researchers on encouraging active play, then decided to throw out the rule book. When the study ended, “researchers were amazed by the results,” reports TVNZ.

Mudslides, skateboarding, bullrush and tree climbing kept the children so occupied the school no longer needed a timeout area or as many teachers on patrol.

Instead of a playground, children used their imagination to play in a “loose parts pit” which contained junk such as wood, tyres and an old fire hose.

AUT professor of public health Grant Schofield said there are too many rules in modern playgrounds. “The great paradox of cotton-woolling children is it’s more dangerous in the long-run.” Children learn about consequences by taking risks, he said.

The research project morphed into something bigger when plans to upgrade playgrounds were stopped due to over-zealous safety regulations and costly play equipment.

“There was so many ridiculous health and safety regulations and the kids thought the static structures of playgrounds were boring.”

Via Instapundit.

Here are some wild-and-crazy playground designs from a Danish firm.

New Ridiculously Imaginative Playgrounds from Monstrum Set the Monkey Bars High for Innovation playgrounds kids