Friday, September 4, 2009

The End of Summer and Play

We had a substantive planning meeting today as we're about to launch the 2009 version of Project Coach next week when we begin interviewing teenagers for the coaching program. It's a busy time for schools, teachers, families, and children as summer schedules end abruptly and school begins.

A NYTimes reflection on the end of summer frames the transition in ways that has relevance to  our work in Project Coach. Writing from California, Stuart Brown writes of the realities children encounter upon returning from school:

The classes are larger, the No Child Left Behind mandates remain in place and, despite advice from the nation’s secretary of health and human services and others, recess and physical education (not to mention art and music instruction) have in many schools been cut back or eliminated. While most of our backpack-laden kids are eager to catch up with friends they haven’t seen over the summer, the general feeling is that “playtime is over.”

The schools in Springfield have also made these painful and tough cuts that result in minuscule amounts of recess and free-activity time. One of the schools we work at provides each elementary student with 45 minutes a week of physical education. As always, in our program, we like to challenge ourselves to think about these realities in comparison to what children in other contexts or schools experience: For example,  at the Smith College Campus School in Northampton, MA, the children receive physical education four days a week.

What are the implications of this? Brown synthesizes a broad range of research and writes:
Through the lens of play research, we can see that there is a direct line between play deficiencies and some frightening public health and social trends: tragic statistics for obesity, 4.5 million children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, an increase in childhood depression and classroom behavioral problems involving violence, and an inability to interact well with peers.
Just an hour a day of vigorous play — running, chasing, games like tag or dodge ball, and even dealing with or avoiding being excluded from these activities — can provide intense skill learning. Physical activity is known to lessen the symptoms of mild attention deficit disorder, and is associated with much lower incidences of childhood obesity. Active kids are also more facile intellectually and perform better academically in the long term.
 At Project Coach, our goals is to provide opportunity for children to run, play, compete, learn skills, bond, laugh, and sweat. As our coaches tell each other: Smiles and Perspiration!

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