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Polly Crookston

English 2010-008
Jim Beatty
April 18, 2016
An Investment in Play as an Investment in Society
The loss of recess and free-play in schools is not only detrimental to the development of
executive functioning skills, as well as social and inter personal relationship skills in early
childhood, but also leads to financial strain on education systems and in the long run, on all of
society. By expanding the access to more resources and money, and by spreading awareness of
the benefits of more playtime in early childhood education, children are able to develop skills
they will use throughout their entire lives. If these changes in schools are made mandatory, by
requiring that the amount of time allotted for such activities be expanded, we not only support
students, we support educators and help build a healthier and stronger society.
One of the first concerns to address is the matter of time, or more appropriately, a lack
thereof. Many teachers feel pressured to structure class time down to the minute, especially now
that so much standardized testing is required. When looking at the required skills assessments
and test required by teachers in grades as early as kindergarten it becomes clear to see why so
many teachers are feeling a time crunch. One teacher in Wisconsin totaled up the assessments
demanded for each individual student in her kindergarten class. She was required to administer
and complete 144 assessments each year per student. (McMahon 2011.) Times this number by
the approximation of twenty-five students in a class, and we have teachers completing 3,600
assessments during one school year. With all the time spent sitting at desks focusing on the skills
needed to successfully pass and complete these assessments, there is little wonder that playtime
has been whittled away. Doing so, however, takes away something for young children that is
vital to understanding themselves and others, as well as the world at large. Repealing the No
Child Left Behind act was a step in the right direction. If we can take it a step further by
requiring playtime to be a part of the curriculum in early childhood education, not only would
children benefit physically, mentally and emotionally, but society as a whole would see the
positive outcomes.

A study was done at the University of Essex that looked into what types of play
encourage positive involvement and physical activity in young children. It was found that when
play is left for students to do freely, there is a higher level of participation than when playtime is
highly structured. However, when there is a higher level of supervision and encouragement from
educators, but not necessarily direct involvement, more children participate and the learning and
levels of physical activity that take place both increase. This is an important issue to note. In
order to have healthier, well-adjusted students who benefit from playtime, we need more teachers
to encourage and supervise student involvement, interaction, and level of participation. Teachers
need to not only be encouraged to plan for this type of playtime, but it also needs to be required.
(Wood, 2016.)
One study that looked into long term effects of lack of various types of playtime and
learning that happens outside of the desk was performed by the University of Missouri. The
researchers followed students from kindergarten through seventh grade and found that students
who are exposed to more restricted leaning environment with extremely limited recess time did
not perform well on standardized tests. By sixth grade these students often had scored low when
their levels of self-perception were evaluated and by seventh grade had developed depression.
What was learned in this study is that play helps students by giving them alternative routes to not
only learning but also developing a solid self-esteem and positive relationship with academics in
general. Many children who do not perform well in standard academic setting learn better via
alternative routes like sports, music, art, thus helping them understand their abilities and to help
them realize that they do have control over their academic performance. Adding more access to
alternative forms of learning that will not occur while sitting in a desk means a need for
educators who have skills in teaching these different but needed topics, as well as access to
sports equipment, art supplies, instruments and of course, the time to play with these items.
Another issue that has been found when studying the available time children have to
move freely is simply the perception of educators when it comes to the reality vs the perception
of time spent in play. In a study that was done in Australia, teachers thought they were allowing
considerably more free play time than they actually were. When the factors that went into this
misconception were examined, it was discovered that the discrepancy in perception of the
amount of playtime offered versus the reality were far greater in educators who worked mainly
with children from lower socio-economic standings. The study also learned that children who fell

into this category had more behavioral issues and that playtime was more stressful for these
educators and often for the students as well. Although the educators from children from areas
with higher levels of socio-economic standing still reported some elevated stress for themselves
during playtime, it was far less than the amount reported from the teachers who work in the
schools in the in the more urban, and lower income areas. By finding that its not only time that
is needed in the day for play, but that more resources via more aides in the classrooms and on the
playground are needed as well, one can understand the importance of more money being placed
in early education.
The other possible influence with the Australia study is that there are fewer teachers and
parent volunteers available in the schools that work with children from the lower SES areas.
Clearly, for these children, more resources are required to make additional playtime not only
more available, but also to ensure that is is the healthy and positive experience they desperately
need. Some may argue that there are no funds available to hire more teachers, making this type
of supervision and support for the students impossible. However, when the correlation is seen
between a lack of playtime and problems later in school with learning disabilities, behavioral and
self-esteem issues, the necessity for more resources being funneled to kindergarten and first
grade becomes obvious. When the long term impacts of lack of playtime are taken into
consideration, we see that children who dont have the time to play in early grades in school end
having serious behavioral issues in high school and much higher chance of committing felonies
as an adult. Knowing all of this, it becomes clear that investing in early childhood development
is far more fiscally sound than not. (Dyment, 2012)
Some may think that there is little to support the claim that playtime is crucial to positive
development for young children. By looking at the HighScope Preschool Curriculum
Comparison Study it becomes quite clear that although playtime may seem frivolous from an
adult perspective, it is actually extremely important to children. In this study, 68 at-risk children
who were assigned to one of three preschool classes. The first two programs were similar in that
they had a regular, high amount of play in them. The the first was unstructured, the second more
structured by the teacher, but third program was rather different in that it was heavily scripted
and focused on cognitive learning. Initially, the children from the different classrooms didnt
show many differences. However, the childrens lives were followed until the age of 23. What
was learned was that the children who were placed in the third, highly structured and cognitively

focused class needed far more special education assistance throughout their schooling, the
average being about 47% of them requiring extra help, whereas students from the other two
classrooms averaged about 6%. Sadly, later in life the students who were in the highly structured
environment had a 34% rate of felonies committed by the age of 23, whereas the other two
classrooms had an of 9% in this area. (Almon, 2013.)
When taking all of these numbers and realities into consideration, and the long term
implications of reducing the amount of playtime afforded to students and funds allocated to early
childhood education, it becomes self-evident that more teachers are required to be able to ensure
access to positive playtime. The other area that needs to be taken into consideration is that
playtime needs to not simply be encouraged, but required in early childhood education. The
alternative option is to continue to pay for all the costs associated with the prosecuting and
housing of felons.
If we also look at the physical health of children, it is hard to deny that there is a
correlation between a decrease in play time and an increase in childhood diseases that use to be
illnesses reserved for adults in later life. It is well known that type II diabetes is now being seen
children, as well obesity and with it, high blood pressure. Although there is a lack of research in
the direct link between active play time dwindling and these issues rising, there was one study
published in The Harvard Heart Letter that looked at the number of calories burned while
performing simple games such hopscotch and jacks vs simply sitting at a desk or engaging in a
game that is screen based (video game.) The number of calories used in even the simplest of
activities is six times higher than what is used during more sedate methods of play and learning.
Taking into consideration the life long impacts of the healthy habits of children, and the ever
rising costs of healthcare, especially in the areas od type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease,
we see yet another area where playtime benefits not only children, but also supports a healthier
society as a whole. In 2014 Duke University estimated that the life long cost of childhood
obesity is approximately $19,000 per child. Multiply that by the number of children in the United
States and the grand sum is about $14 billion. Moving more leads to more calories burned, which
can lead to lower rates of obesity. Yes, trimming the fat off the nations children is not as simple
as increasing playtime, and at the same time, it certainly would not contribute to the issue in the
way that hours of sitting does. (Duke, 2014)

When looking over the results from both of the afore mentioned studies, it becomes
evident that we as a society, as well as governments, school boards, and teachers across the
nation, need to consider which areas they prefer to invest their tax dollars. Is it wise to invest in
early childhood education with proper funding for ample educators to allow for safe playtimes?
Or shall we continue to invest special education teachers further down the line and eventually,
jails and prisons?
With the introduction of Common Core requirements, many educators continue to scrap
playtime, choosing to focus strictly on STEM education. However, Karen Wolhwend, who holds
a PhD in early pre-school and primary education and is well respected in her knowledge in the
area, and Kylie Peppler, an associate professor of learning sciences at Indiana State University,
have found that STEM topics and requirements of Common Core learning can be integrated into
productive playtime for children, even in the early years of education. In their article, All Rigor
And No Play Is No Way To Improve Learning, they explain how this done by offering materials
required for students to learn, hands on, the thrills of science and basics of math, by playing with
batteries, play dough, LED lights and other materials in a semi-structured environment. The
interactions of the children in these situation still allows for them to develop problem solving
skills, to interact in ways that encourage social development and positive peer interactions, as
well as developing critical thinking skills. They have been able to show that play engages
childrens abilities to solve complex problems, requiring them to draw from all that they have
learned in the classroom, combining it with cues they pick up in daily life, to create something
new. They have shown that play is anything but a frivolous waste of time, but is, in fact, a
necessity for healthy development.
When we look at the studies that showed the discrepancies between playtime
opportunities and the long term outcomes in children, and combine those findings with the skills
Wolhwned and Peppler were able to encourage with play, often called executive function skills,
we can find an explanation for the differences in success or failure with the children in their
relation to access to play. In an article written for The American Journal of Play, executive
function skills were explained in the following manner: EF (executive function) encompasses
controlling attention, suppressing impulses in favor of adaptive responses, and combining
information in working memory, as well as planning, organizing and monitoring and flexibly
redirecting thought and behavior.

Vygotsky, a studier of early childhood development in the 1930s and on, was a believer in
the thought that play greatly influenced the development of executive functioning skills.
Although there are those who disagree with him, when the basics of play are broken down, its
clear to see children develop stronger executive functioning skills than children who have less
time to play. (Bedrova, 2013.)
Consider the following scenario: a group of children is playing and in this session they
have developed, they decide that are going to be in a restaurant and one child is the waiter, one is
the cook and one is ordering a meal. Assume that the waiter believes it is their job to seat the
customer, take the order and then deliver it when it is prepared. Should the child who is the
customer go directly to the cook and place the order then seat themselves, the waiter needs to
find a way to stand up for the importance of their role in a prosocial manner. Upon doing so, the
children come together and discuss what needs to change and the scenario starts all over again,
only this time, all children are included and are mindful of the roles and needs of others.
The skills required to carry out such an event help children develop not only the ability to
communicate what is going to happen and their expectations in a manner that is understood by
others, but also to negotiate among each other while managing emotions. They need to work to
attempt to understand what the others are saying and feeling, as well as effectively communicate
their desires. They are also reflecting upon societal norms and are drawing and sharing from their
own life experiences. The children are also required to exercise foresight and ponder the what
ifs of the situation. The ability to orchestrate all of this with limited vocabulary and emotional
regulation is no small feat. By repeating such events over and over, skills and abilities are fine
tuned, and then applied to life outside of play scenarios.
Such moments can be extremely valuable to a childs development and when harnessed
by a creative teacher can be used to further the lessons learned when reflected upon after the
activity is complete through guided discussions. Doing so allows the teacher not only to praise
what was seen that positive and that showed ingenuity and strengths, but also can help the
students better understand why certain things may not have gone well, or the way they had
expected or hoped. (Leong, 2012.)
Although the above scenario may seem frivolous to most adults, the removal of such
opportunities in classrooms has been linked to an increase in anger outbursts and even violence
in children as early as kindergarten. When children are not provided with an outlet to safely

explore their world and their own abilities without being tested and scored, the lack of emotional
regulation and skills needed to navigate what is, for young children, a complex interaction, are
There are those who say that the days of so called useless classroom play are gone. Many
people state that funds needed to provide productive and properly supervised playtime do not
exist. The need for extra teachers and playtime materials in early childhood education could be a
drain on an already struggling budget. Upon looking at the realities of what happens to children
who do not have a playful education, the question of funding healthy and productive play really
comes down to this: do we prefer to invest in children early in life, or wait to invest in them
when they are struggling with depression and learning disabilities, or in prison. When the cost of
caring for obese children who so often grow to be obese adults is also taken into consideration, it
becomes nearly impossible to deny the fact that an investment in play in preschool, kindergarten
and first grade is financially sound investment to make. Another area of contention comes from
proponents of the Common Core and those who believe that focusing only STEM topics in
education. They are often insistent upon having only teacher guided play, if any at all, in all
classrooms. It has been shown that it is not only possible but is also very effective to incorporate
the STEM topics and the requirements of Common Core into class play time, thus calming the
fears associated with those concerns.
It is time for tax payers and government officials to support what many teachers have
long suspected; more playtime, more resources and more teachers to support more playtime in
classrooms of early childhood education lead to healthier, well functioning, better prepared and
happier students. It needs to be made known that this kind of early childhood education will lead
to fewer dollars spent down the line in the form of special education requirements and
eventually, behavioral problems that lead to legal issues, jail and prison sentences. The lessons
learned and taught during these crucial moments last a lifetime. It is clear that the long term
benefits of investing money and resources in recess and classroom playtime, requiring playtime
to be part of the curriculum, and starting as early a kindergarten, are not only important for
children as individuals, but for society as a whole. The reality is, proper playtime is a wise
financial investment for all.

Works Cited
Almon, Joan. Its Playtime. Principal. September/October 2013. March 7, 2016.
Bedrova, Elana., Germeroth, Carrie., Leong, Deborah J. (2013) Play and Self-Regulation:
Lessons From Vygotsky. American Journal of Play, v6 (n1) p 111-123.

Berk, Laura E., Meyers, Edena E., (2013) The Role of Make-Believe Play in the Development od
Executive Function: Status Research and Future Direction. American Journal of Play v6
(n1) p 98-110.
Dyment, J., & Coleman, B. (2012) The Intersection of Physical Activity Opportunities And The
Role Of Early Childhood Educators During Outdoor Play: Perceptions And Reality.
Australian Journal Of Early Childhood. 37(1), 90-98
Duke Global Health. Over A Lifetime, Childhood Obesity Costs $19,000 Per Child. April 7,
2014. April 12, 2016.

Leong, Deborah J., Bodrova Elana. Assessing and Scaffolding, Make-Believe Play. January
2012. February 28, 2016.
McMahon, K. Everything You Shouldnt Need To Know In Kindergarten. Progressive [serial
online]. February 2011; 75(2):28. Available from: Academic Search Premier, Ipswich,
MA. Accessed 1, 2016
Miller, Edward and Almon, Joan. Crisis in Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in
School, College Park, MD: Alliance for Childhood 2009
Wood, C., Hall K. Physical Education Or Playtime: Which Is More Effective At Promoting
Phyical Activity In Primary School Children? BMC Research Notes [serial online.]
January 2015;8(1):255-256.