Some experts say that kids need more recess—not more test prep—to excel in school.
NPR recently visited Eagle Mountain Elementary School in Fort Worth, Texas, and discovered that more time on the playground could be the key to improving test scores.
Eagle Mountain is participating in a project modeled after the Finnish school system, which typically places toward the top of international education rankings. The experiment involves giving first-graders four 15-minute breaks for unstructured outdoor play—far more than most schools provide.
Debbie Rhea, a professor of kinesiology at Texas Christian University, is one of the leading proponents of increased playtime. She visited Finland for six weeks to find out what schools there are getting right.
Finnish children start school at age 7. A first-grader there spends 4.5 hours in school; three hours in class and 90 minutes at play. By contrast, American first-graders spend seven hours in school, but unstructured outdoor playtime often is not a scheduled part of the day, according to Education Week.
Eagle Mountain tripled its recess time for the ongoing experiment, from 20 minutes to an hour. The teachers initially feared that time away from the classroom would negatively impact test scores.
Instead, the teachers have seen “a huge transformation,” according to NPR. The students are more focused and better behaved in class. At the midpoint of the school year, the teachers said their kids are ahead of schedule.
So, what’s going on here? Some experts say that giving students breaks for physical activity makes a huge difference.
“If you want a child to be attentive and stay on task, and also if you want them to encode the information you’re giving them in their memory, you’ve got to give them regular breaks,” Ohio State University pediatrician Bob Murray told NPR.
Murray’s evidence – based on brain imaging – supports what the Eagle Mountain teachers observed, NPR reports.
Rhea views her program as a way to change how American educators think about teaching children. She told NPR: it’s better to let kids be kids.
SOURCE: Education Week | PHOTO CREDIT: Getty