How Play Can Improve Performance Scores in School

How play improves school performance

Class time and playtime are two of the most important factors for healthy childhood growth. While people often think of school and play as separate, they actually have a positive influence on each other. Giving kids plenty of time to play can help them succeed in school and beyond.

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, this lack of playtime can be lowering children’s ability to do well in school.

How Play Improves Academic Performance

Several studies have found a proven link between play and academic performance. Some of the cognitive benefits of play include better learning performance, with some researchers suggesting unstructured play is essential for learning. Play and academic skills intersect in a variety of ways, including:

Exercise and the Brain

Recess often gives kids the chance to engage in active play. Physical activity directly benefits the brain by increasing blood flow necessary for many cognitive functions such as memory recall and stress relief.

Exercise also increases molecular targets in the brain that form new synapses, which connect neurons, or brain cells. Synapses enhance connections between parts of the brain and encode new information so it’s easier to process in the future. Brains with lots of strong synapses can more readily absorb information and create long-term memories.

Kids with more recess time often benefit from better memories and increased attention spans. Exercise improves memory capacity and strength, which directly translates to academic success, as many educational formats require memorization.

Exercise also lowers the number of stress receptors in the brain, reducing the effects of stress hormones. Weaker negative hormone signals help people feel less stressed after exercising. In addition, physical activity releases endorphins in the brain that create happy feelings.

Exercise’s emotional benefits can help students lower their stress and anxiety levels, reducing mental distractions and pressures so they can focus better in school.

Play and Standardized Tests

Many schools across the country have chosen to decrease recess time to make space in the day for increased standardized test preparations. Ironically, playtime during the school day can actually boost test scores.

Studies of students around the world have shown children can focus more on academics when classes are paired with periods of unstructured play. Students at some of the best-performing schools in the world receive daily recess time that amounts to a large portion of their school day. Their standardized test scores improve the more active playtime they get.

However, play is incredibly beneficial, even in small bursts. While your school may not have an abundance of time or resources to dedicate to recess and other forms of free play, short periods of play are still effective.

In fact, short breaks for physical activity scattered throughout a school day can help students earn higher grades, stay focused for longer periods and score higher on standardized tests than students with fewer unstructured breaks per day.

Exams test kids’ knowledge of different subjects, but they also require kids to use memorization and focus skills to think of correct answers and accomplish timed tasks. Established playtime in schools lets kids build a variety of strengths they can use to absorb information and demonstrate their knowledge effectively.

Play and Classroom Behavior

Recess is often the only time in a child’s school day where they can engage in unstructured activities. Free play provides a welcome contrast to lessons and school subjects, as both a physical and mental reprieve during the average of 6.8 hours of classroom learning per weekday. Kids at play develop important brain characteristics that help them perform better and more efficiently in school than they would without those important breaks from work and opportunities for exercise.

In addition to the links between play and cognitive development, research also suggests a positive impact of recess on classroom behavior. Children with regular playtime in their schedules have better self-regulation abilities and improved social skills. Unstructured play, in particular, provides more social benefits than exercise alone, as kids use this time to think creatively and make their own choices without needing to follow specific rules for games or other activities.

Giving kids time for themselves between structured school sections increases their ability to make good use of class time. Positive classroom behavior helps contribute to an effective, supportive learning environment for everyone. Students prone to disruptions can release their energy during play and pay better attention during class, while all other students benefit from a quiet, orderly classroom with more focus on effective learning strategies.

Keep Play in Schools

Playtime is more than 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 receive less playtime. If we want to enhance kids’ learning abilities so they can achieve academic success, 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. We’re committed to providing schools with enriching, engaging and inclusive playground equipment. With us, you can choose from a range of imaginative structures to boost all kids’ creative and cognitive skills.

Contact our team to discuss your needs or get a quote today!

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