No time to play

Today’s children don’t have time to play independently – and to develop social skills — writes psychologist Peter Gray on Aeon. The adults are always in charge.

Growing up in the 1950s, Gray had a “hunter-gatherer education” in addition to formal schooling. The neighborhood kids played after school, often till dark, in mixed-age groups. They played on the weekends and in the summer.

We had time to explore in all sorts of ways, and also time to become bored and figure out how to overcome boredom, time to get into trouble and find our way out of it, time to daydream, time to immerse ourselves in hobbies, and time to read comics and whatever else we wanted to read rather than the books assigned to us.

Since then, adult-directed sports for children have replaced “pickup” games, Gray writes. free-to-learn Adult-directed extracurriculars have replaced hobbies. Parents are afraid to let kids play without supervision.

As children’s free play has declined, children have shown more signs of anxiety and depression, he writes on psychological surveys. Since the ’50s, “the suicide rate for young people aged 15 to 24 has more than doubled, and that for children under age 15 has quadrupled.”

In addition, surveys show “a decline in empathy and a rise in narcissism.”

Children aren’t learning social skills through play, writes Gray. At school, an authoritarian setting, they learn to compete rather than cooperate. Extending the school day will widen the “play deficit” even more, argues Gray.

A Boston College professor, Gray writes the Freedom to Learn blog, and is the author of a new book, Free to Learn.

Kids who want to work — mowing lawns — face “safety” barriers, writes Mollie Hemingway. On the neighborhood listserv, someone asked for feedback on “a group of adorable and entrepreneurial kids (young, maybe 9-11 years old)” looking for mowing jobs. “We didn’t see a parent with them supervising.”

A link was provided to Mowing the Lawn Can Be a Dangerous Chore, which recommended “polycarbonate protective eyewear” for anyone mowing — or in the vicinity.

On tougher test, NY scores plunge

Reading and math scores dropped sharply in New York because the new Common Core-aligned tests are much harder.

In New York City, 26 percent of students in third through eighth grade passed the state exams in English, and 30 percent passed in math, reports the New York Times. On last year’s easier test, 47 percent of city students passed in English, and 60 percent in math.

Statewide, 31 percent of students passed the exams in reading and math. Last year, 55 percent passed in reading, and 65 percent in math.

Achievement gaps are large: 16 percent of black students and 18 percent of Hispanic students passed English exams, compared with 40 percent of white students and 50 percent of Asians.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said higher standards will prepare students for college and the work force. “Too many school systems lied to children, families and communities,” Mr. Duncan said. “Finally, we are holding ourselves accountable as educators.”

It’s a conspiracy to make teachers look bad and sell more stuff, writes Carol Burris, an award-winning high school principal, on Answer Sheet.

Because of the Common Core, our youngest children are being asked to meet unrealistic expectations. New York’s model curriculum for first graders includes knowing the meaning of words that include “cuneiform,” “sarcophagus,” and “ziggurat.” . . .

If we are not careful, the development of social skills, the refinement of fine motor skills, and most importantly, the opportunity to celebrate the talents and experiences of every child will be squeezed out of the school day.

“There will be tremendous pressure to further narrow the curriculum and cut out all of the enrichment that can make young children smile with anticipation on Monday mornings,” Burris concludes.

New York State Stops Lying to Kids, and That’s a Good Thing, headlines RiShawn Biddle on Dropout Nation.

Colleges teach workplace social skills

To help graduating seniors find jobs, colleges and universities are teaching the social skills of the workplace, reports the Hechinger Report.

After final exams are over, MIT students will return from their holiday break to experience something different from their usual studies—but almost as important.

It’s the university’s annual Charm School, offering instruction in everything from how to make a first impression to how to dress for work to which bread plate to use.

Other colleges have started teaching students how to make small talk, deal with conflict, show up on time, follow business etiquette, and communicate with co-workers.

Employers complain new hires don’t know how to act professionally. “This is a generation with an average of 241 social media ‘friends,’ but they have trouble communicating in person,” said Arthur Levine, president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation.

“Students don’t really know what’s meant by professional dress,” says MIT’s Hamlett. “Most students just roll out of bed in whatever it is they want to wear. There’s this ‘come as you are’ about being a college student.”

At Wake Forest University’s business school, master’s candidates are required to wear business attire to class, and be in the building from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

. . . MBA and law students at the University of Iowa learn table manners at an annual “etiquette dinner”—where to rest their silverware between courses and on which side of their settings to return their water glasses.

“Helicopter parents” haven’t taught their entitled children what the real world demands, says Aaron McDaniel, author of The Young Professional’s Guide to the Working World. He also blames universities for letting students slide by without working hard. In the workplace, McDaniel says, many graduates “expect that, just for showing up, they’ll get credit, just like they used to get at school.”

Hispanic kids lag in language, not social skills

Mexican-American preschoolers fall behind white children in language and preliteracy skills, but do just as well in social skills, according to a Berkeley-UCLA study.

Mexican American toddlers between ages 2 and 3 displayed language and cognitive skills about eight months behind those of their white peers, whether assessed in English or Spanish. This gap persisted through ages 4 and 5, with Mexican American children entering kindergarten already behind.

. . . “The slight schooling of Mexican-heritage mothers, juggling more young children at home, and weak traditions of reading with one’s child, conspire to suppress early language and cognitive growth,” (UCLA pediatrician Alma) Guerrero said.

Mexican-American parents are much less likely to read to their children regularly. But, in other ways, they were warm, supportive parents, said Berkeley sociologist and study co-author Bruce Fuller. “We find robust cultural strengths in Mexican American homes when it comes to raising eager and socially mature preschoolers.”

Recess returns — with less free play

Chicago schoolkids are going out for recess this week for the first time in 30 years — the mayor added time to the very short school day — and principals are worried that children don’t know how to play, reports the Chicago Tribune.

When Chicago’s Bright Elementary School added 15 minutes of recess to its school day this year, teachers ventured outdoors to find a run-down schoolyard with no playground, a sometimes violent neighborhood and a generation of kids who didn’t know how to play outside.

At Namaste Charter School, officials this year spent $23,000 for a “recess coach,” a modern-day schoolyard referee tasked with keeping fights and bullying to a minimum while also teaching games that could be unfamiliar to today’s schoolchildren — games like four square, tag and dodgeball.

Recess helps children learn, writes Nicholas Day in Slate.

Repeated studies have shown that when recess is delayed, children pay less and less attention. They are more focused on days when they have recess. A major study in Pediatrics found that children with more than 15 minutes of recess a day were far better behaved in class than children who had shorter recess breaks or none at all.

They’ll get more out of class, too: Children seem to learn more efficiently when information is spaced out—when it is distributed over time. It’s been widely documented that the brain needs a break. High-performing East Asian schools have famously long school days—but much of the extra time is taken up by recess, not instruction.

But principals see recess as a time of chaos. So the new recess is “more structured and sports-focused, less dreamy and aimless.”

The nonprofit organization Playworks puts full-time “recess coaches” in low-income schools—currently they’re in 387 schools in 23 cities—who teach children how to play: They organize games; they model how to resolve disputes (rock-paper-scissors); they try to get kids more active and engaged.

Playworks claims to add only the structure that might be provided by a big brother or sister teaching the little kids how to set up a game. There’s little fighting or bullying, the group says. But will the little kids grow up to run their own games?

Recess is a “no-brainer,” says Anthony Pellegrini, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Minnesota. But it’s value is undercut when the kids aren’t in charge.

 “A very important part of what kids do on the playground is social competence—that is, they learn how to get along with others,” he says. “You have to cooperate, you have to use language, you have to compromise. And that’s not trivial. That is huge, in terms of both academic success and success in life.”

Low-income children are the most likely to live in places where it’s not safe to play outside. They’re also the least likely to have time for play at school. “The more minority students a school has, and the lower the income level of their parents, the less time allotted for recess—nearly half of poor children go all day without it,” writes Day.