Kids need more play time

Why young kids need more play time


Crash! The teacher smashed her cane across my desk, missing my fingers by a hair. I’d been looking out of the window again. She lifted my chin with the end of the cane. I was definitely paying attention now.

“What did I just say Parker?” she’d barked at me, while all the other kids suppressed a giggle.

Of course I didn’t know, because I was busy feeling like a prisoner looking at the sky through the bars of his cell window. Even though I didn’t realise it at the time, my brain was trying to tell me that it wanted to be OUTSIDE.

Children need more play time

Recent studies have confirmed that young kids need more play time. Hooray, I was right all this time. Now can I go out and play? Okay we all hear of these academic papers that seem to confirm the obvious, you know what I mean – ‘Scientists confirm that men watch more sports than women” – that kind of thing, it drives you mad.

The LiiNk Project ( ) at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth is setting out to develop character in kids with more play. Why wasn’t this around fifty years ago?

A study written by Debbie Rhea, director of the LiiNk Project has confirmed that more play is better all round for young children:-

It seems counter-intuitive to think that less classroom time and more outdoor play would lead to a better education for kids. But longer time on task doesn’t equate to better results, only greater burnout.

Debbie Rhea

I’ve always felt this and now I have four grandkids under three who demand the freedom of the garden rain, hail or shine.

“Owside Gwandad” they order, with both hands tugging on the door handle.

That need to be out doors is positvely prehistoric. I’m convinced this primal need to play is locked into our DNA.

Look at the animal kingdom. Do you ever see a lion cub or a young monkey that isn’t looking for rough and tumble with its siblings.

The same goes for us humans, only  education authorities seem to not have learnt this lesson. But perhaps this new body of academic research will help to throw some weight behind the demands of those who think more playtime is better for children.

More Play = More Attention

In Finland the kids in school take a 15 minute break every 45 minutes. In break time the kids run around and socialize and the teachers sit off and have a coffee. Not all of them! They take it in turns for at least two teachers to watch over the kids. This isn’t a new thing in Finland either, they have been doing this since the 60’s. Trying to make kids sit still for an hour is the quickest way to turn them into a zombie. With 15 minute breaks every 45 minutes the kids come back with bounce and zip and are ready to learn the next thing.

In another study by Anthony Pellegrini—author of Recess: Its Role in Education and Development and emeritus professor of educational psychology at the University of Minnesota, he discovered that Primary School children in East Asia, who have a 10 minutes break after every 30 minutes teaching session, were more attentive after the break on every occasion.

The practice of giving kids unstructured play for 10 to 15 minutes every 30 to 45 minutes is completely opposite to the thinking of education authorities in the UK and the USA. Here kids in grade 1 (6 to 7 year olds) can sometimes have to sit for seven hours without any break.

Something that stood out for me in the Finnish model was the fact that kids could go outside whatever the weather. Too often kids are made to stay inside even when it’s only raining a little bit. The British comedian Peter Kay had a hit with his “it’s spitting, everybody inside” routine precisely because everyone could see how ridiculous this practice was.

I can remember one time when I was playing golf, the rain was coming down in buckets and I was having a really bad round. I noticed some Pheasants on the fairway in front of me who were carrying on as normal pecking away, they didn’t even notice the rain and I think kids are the same. It’s only adults who gets a little bit crazy about the weather.

Allowing kids time for unstructured play is the same as hitting control alt delete, it gives them a chance to reboot and start again fresh.

Kids need more play time

The science behind sitting still.

Brain and body physiology changes when we sit still for more than twenty minutes. Inactivity slows the movement of oxygen and glucose into the brain and we literally fall asleep.

I can supply personal proof, my lovely wife will fall asleep after just ten minutes if she sits still in front of the TV. I have wasted a lot of money on cinema tickets because she sleeps through most of the film.

Movement and activity stimulates neurons and when we aren’t moving those neurons  aren’t firing.

Researchers think there is a link between sitting still and ADHD, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Back in the 60’s and 70’s ADHD hadn’t even been invented, but now the rates of ADHD are soaring. Centres for Disease Control in the USA have measured the rates of ADHD and have stated that rates went up from 7.8% in 2003 to 11% in 2011.

Granted the reason the rates are going up can be many fold and one of those reasons is that people are spotting the symptoms more frequently than they used to. The same is true for other conditions like Alzheimer’s, where doctors are making earlier diagnoses because they are actively looking for the disease.

TimberNook, a nature-based development program designed to foster creativity and independent play outdoors in New England, have suggested that another reason more kids are being diagnosed with ADHD is the fact that they are having to sit still longer in school and don’t get enough active play time.

Paediatric Occupational Therapist Angela Hanscom, founder of Timbernook has talked to the Washington Post ( about the link between our sensory systems and the ability to pay attention.

She talks about children needing “rapid vestibular (balance) input” on a daily basis. The vestibular complex is part of our inner ear and is linked to balance which is linked to attention. In order to improve balance, kids need to be running around, spinning, turning upside down and doing all the kind of things that kids usually do, if you let them.

This kind of activity also has the spin off of improving core strength and generating better behaviour with the children. It also reduces the amount of fidgeting and general bad behaviour in the classroom. There is a link here with the rise in child obesity which is partly due to kids not having time to play, run around and generally keep fit.

Governments and their never ending drive for better standards have focused on dropping gym time, sports time and playtime, in favour of reading, writing and arithmetic, but the current thinking is the complete opposite of this shortsighted policy.


Will kids who play more make better adults?

The link between kids being active, having time to play and, around and having better attention and learning capabilities seems to be very natural and common sense. The academics are beginning to prove this point of view. We have to hope that our pressurised teachers are given the scope to allow kids to play more, which will be better for children, teachers and if you take the bigger picture, for our Society.


Do you think children need more play?

What are your experiences?

If you have some great stories about your kids then please put them in the comments section below I would love to hear what you have to say.

The days of the cane are mercifully behind us, but I hope my grandkids will not be sitting looking out of the school window and wishing they were outside.


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