Play Studies

Following are summaries, with links, of some key play studies and reports published since 2006.

The State of Play: Gallup Survey of Principals on School Recess

The Robert Woods Johnson Foundation
February 2010

Summary

A first-of-its-kind Gallup poll reveals that elementary school principals overwhelmingly believe recess has a positive impact not only on the development of students' social skills, but also on achievement and learning in the classroom. These findings arrive on the heels of groundbreaking research linking more recess to better behavior and focus in the classroom.

Key Findings

Recess has a positive impact on achievement and learning.

  • More than 8 in 10 principals report that recess has a positive impact on academic achievement.
  • Two-thirds of principals report that students listen better after recess and are more focused in class.

Recess benefits child development in important, non-academic ways as well.

  • An overwhelming majority (96%) of principals conclude that recess has a positive impact on social development.
  • An overwhelming majority (97%) of principals believe that recess has a positive impact on general well-being.

Recess remains a precious commodity at most schools. Despite its link to achievement, many schools cut recess to meet testing requirements.

  • Half of principals report that students receive between 16–30 minutes of recess per day.
  • 1 in 5 principals indicate that annual yearly progress (AYP) testing requirements have led to a decrease in recess minutes at their school.

Despite the connection between recess and good student behavior, schools continue to take recess away as a punishment for bad behavior.

  •  A solid majority (77%) of principals report taking recess away as a punishment.

Recess is the time of day when schools face the biggest behavior management challenges.

  • Principals report that the majority of discipline-related problems occur outside of class time (87%) with the majority of those occurring during recess or lunch (89%).

Schools are looking for help with recess

  • When asked what would improve recess at their schools, they prioritized an increase in the number of staff to monitor recess, better equipment, and playground management, in that order.

Recommendations

  • It's time for education policy makers at all levels to take play seriously.
  • Schools should enhance recess to improve learning and school climate.
  • The single best way to improve recess is to improve the way it is staffed.


Complete Document

Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School

A report from the Alliance for Childhood by Edward Miller and Joan Almon
March 2009

Summary

Kindergarten has changed radically in the last two decades in ways that few Americans are aware of. Children now spend far more time being taught and tested on literacy and math skills than they do learning through play and exploration, exercising their bodies, and using their imaginations. Many kindergartens use highly prescriptive curricula geared to new state standards and linked to standardized tests. In an increasing number of kindergartens, teachers must follow scripts from which they may not deviate. These practices, which are not well grounded in research, violate long-established principles of child development and good teaching. It is increasingly clear that they are compromising both children's health and their long-term prospects for success in school. The nine new studies and analyses on which this report is based all point to the same conclusion: kindergarten, long a beloved institution in American culture, is in crisis.

Key Findings

  • A preponderance of time in a sample of 254 New York City and Los Angeles kindergartens is devoted to teaching literacy and numeracy, and to testing and test preparation.
  • Preschool and kindergarten children benefit from play and playful learning, from choosing their own activities, and from individual and small-group pursuits rather than whole-group ones.
  • A sample of kindergarten teachers in New York City and Los Angeles report that imaginative and dramatic play is disappearing because of lack of materials and funding, lack of support from school administrators, and curricula that don't allow for such activities.
  • The pervasive use of standardized tests to measure children's progress in literacy and math has become an established part of kindergarten education in spite of a consensus among educational testing professionals that the results of such testing of children under age eight are subject to serious errors and their use is largely invalid.
  • Scripted teaching and other highly didactic types of curricula are widely used in kindergartens despite a lack of scientific evidence that they yield long-term gains.
  • The push for more academics in early education has reduced time for unstructured play, even as mothers and pediatricians have grown deeply concerned about its demise.
  • The urge to play is still alive in children and needs to be nurtured.

Recommendations

  • Restore child-initiated play and experiential learning with the active support of teachers to their rightful place at the heart of kindergarten education.
  • Reassess kindergarten standards to ensure that they promote developmentally appropriate practices, and eliminate those that do not.
  • End the inappropriate use in kindergarten of standardized tests, which are prone to serious error especially when given to children under age eight.
  • Expand the early childhood research agenda to examine the long-term impact of current preschool and kindergarten practices on the development of children from diverse backgrounds.
  • Give teachers of young children first-rate preparation that emphasizes the full development of the child and the importance of play, nurtures children's innate love of learning, and supports teachers' own capacities for creativity, autonomy, and integrity.
  • Use the crisis of play's disappearance from kindergarten to rally organizations and individuals to create a national movement for play in schools and communities.


Complete Document

The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds

A Clinical Report by the American Academy of Pediatrics, Kenneth R. Ginsberg MD, MS Ed, and the Committee on Communications and Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health
October 2006

(Published in Pediatrics, January 2007)

Summary

Play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth. Play also offers an ideal opportunity for parents to engage fully with their children. Despite the benefits derived from play for both children and parents, time for free play has been markedly reduced for some children. This report addresses a variety of factors that have reduced play, including a hurried lifestyle, changes in family structure, and increased attention to academics and enrichment activities at the expense of recess or free child-centered play. This report offers guidelines on how pediatricians can advocate for children by helping families, school systems, and communities consider how best to ensure that play is protected as they seek the balance in children's lives to create the optimal developmental milieu.

Key Findings

Children need free play at home and at school.

Play is essential for the cognitive, physical, and emotional well-being of children and youth.

Undirected free play:

  • allows children to develop imagination and physical, mental, and emotional strength;
  • helps children conquer fears, practice adult roles, and develop confidence;
  • allows children to learn to work with others, share, and self-advocate; and
  • builds active, healthy bodies.

Play is essential for learning.

  • It helps children adjust to school settings.
  • It enhances learning readiness, learning behaviors, and problem-solving skills.

Free play and recess are declining in American schools.

  • In 1989, 96% of school systems had at least one recess period.
  • In 1999, only 70% of kindergarten classrooms had recess.
  • Today, school responses to the No Child Left Behind Act often results in reduced time for recess, creative arts, and physical education.

Recommendations


Complete Document

Children's Pastimes and Play in Sixteen Nations: Is Free Play Declining?

Dorothy G. Singer, Jerome L. Singer, Heidi D'Agostino, and Raeka DeLong
American Journal of Play
Winter 2009

Summary

This study examined the role of play and experiential-learning activities beyond formal schooling in sixteen nations. The study, supported by Unilever PLC, gathered information from the mothers of twenty-four hundred children in countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia who described and rated their children's daily activities in telephone interviews or face-to- face conversations. They answered questions about their beliefs and attitudes concerning experiential learning, about their worries for the safety and health of their children, and about the general values of their children's various pastimes, including the use of electronic media. The study concerned children of comparable socioeconomic status in each country and looked at equal numbers of boys and girls and an equal distribution of children's ages ranging from one to 12.

Key Findings

The study's findings indicate surprising similarities of children's play in all nations. The mothers interviewed agreed, for example, that a lack of free-play and experiential learning opportunities was eroding childhood. The study indicates that children's major free-time activity is watching television. In analyzing the data collected in the study, the authors discuss detailed cross-national comparisons and differences in play activities by degrees of industrial development. Details of these findings include:

  • Watching television was significantly more common than playing outside the home and was equally common among boys and girls.
  • With respect to playing outside, developed and newly industrialized countries report similar results. By comparison, developing countries showed not only the highest rate of television watching, but also a considerably lower rate of outdoor play.
  • Significantly more boys in all countries played outside or on a playground than girls (63% compared to 53%), and more boys than girls took part in organized sports (25% to 21%).
  • Globally, mothers face an internal struggle over play and experiential learning, most frequently citing safety issues and time constraints as barriers to their children taking part in these experiences.
  • Globally, mothers expressed a firm belief that their children often benefited from experiential learning and play.
  • There was the high degree of agreement among mothers from practically all countries that "childhood as they know it is over."
  • Mothers globally (67%) worried that without enough social play, their children's generation will not fully learn how to form relationships.

As the primary protectors of their sons and daughters, mothers are deeply concerned that their youngsters are somehow missing out on the joys of childhood and experiential learning opportunities of free play and natural exploration. Children seem to be rushed too rapidly into the rigors of adult life. For lack of safe outdoor play spaces and unstructured free time, children are deprived of the excitement and social interactions of a healthy youth.

Recommendations


Complete Document

School Recess and Group Classroom Behavior

Romina M. Barros, Ellen J. Silver, and Ruth E. K. Stein
Pediatrics
February 2009

Summary

This study examines the amount of recess children eight to nine years old receive in the United States and compares the group classroom behavior of children receiving daily recess with that of children not receiving daily recess. The authors used longitudinal data from an on-going national study of kindergarteners who started school in 1998 to examine classroom behavior, social development, and overall health as they relate to recess practices. The study gathered data for more than 10,000 children in nearly equal numbers of boys and girls.

Key Findings

  • A break of at least 15 minutes during the school day correlated with better TRCB (Teachers Rating of Classroom Behavior) scores.
  • Recess may play an important role in the learning, social development, and health of children in elementary school.
  • Compared with children who received recess, those who received no or minimal recess (30%) were much more likely to be black, come from families with lower incomes and lower levels of education, live in large cities, live in the Northeast or South, and attend public school.
  • Many children between the ages of 8 and 9 may not meet NASPE (National Association for Sport and Physical Education) recommendations for at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day and are at risk for becoming overweight.

Recommendations

  • Elementary schoolchildren should have recess daily.
  • More research is needed to explore the appropriate balance between structured time and recess for healthy child development and to assess the effect of no-recess policies on students' behavior and academic achievements.


Complete Document