Many schools are placing less emphasis on recess, with some schools eliminating recess entirely to put more focus on the academic areas where students face testing. In other cases, budget cuts are reducing student access to recess. For example, a story covered by the Detroit Free Press reported that more than 6,000 children at nine Detroit schools went without recess in 2017.
Unfortunately, the lack of playtime can be lowering children’s ability to do well in school.
How Play Improves Performance in School
The link between play and academic performance has been proven in studies. Some of the cognitive benefits of play include better learning performance, with some researchers suggesting that it’s essential for learning. Studies as far back as 1964 show that rats in environments with play and toys had thicker cerebral cortices and were able to get through mazes faster than those raised with no play, suggesting that play is good for cognitive skills.
Other studies have shown that children have more focus on academics after periods of unstructured play. The highest-ranking students in the world — in Japan — get breaks every 50 minutes during school. Research by psychologist Edward Fisher concluded that children who engage in play involving pretend and imagination showed improved “cognitive-linguistic and social-affective” performance. Students who played with blocks at a young age did better in math, according to studies, and children with unstructured play had better problem-solving abilities.
Researchers at VU University in the Netherlands found that children who engaged in physical play showed higher GPAs and standardized test scores. That study found that the more physical play students had, the better they performed in school, with English, reading and math being especially positively affected. Shorter periods of play were found to be as effective as longer playtime, the researchers concluded.
Playtime can help children focus, an important skill to assist them in learning and performing well on tests. In addition to the link between play and cognitive development, there’s also research suggesting a positive impact of recess on classroom behavior. Children who had playtime in some studies had better self-regulation ability, and playtime has been shown to improve social skills as well.
Curiously, the behavioral and academic benefits of recess are linked to unstructured play. Physical education classes and structured play have not been shown to have the same benefits.
Keep Play in Schools
Playtime is not just a break from the serious work of studying and learning. As the research shows, students who get regular and unstructured playtime perform better in school, are better problem-solvers, show better behavior in class and do better on tests when compared with students who don’t get playtime. If we want children to do better academically and hope to enhance their ability to learn, we need to provide them with the time and space to play.
If your school needs a new, updated play area, take a look at the playground equipment available from Playworld. Contact our team to discuss your needs or get a quote. Playworld is committed to safe, enriching, engaging and inclusive playground equipment. With us, you can choose from a range of equipment to get all students playing.