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Why Kids Need to Play

Why Kids Need to Play
"It is rare to find children rolling down hills, climbing trees, and spinning in circles just for fun," writes pediatric occupational therapist Angela Hanscom. "Recess times have shortened due to increasing educational demands, and children rarely play outdoors due to parental fears, liability issues, and the hectic schedules of modern-day society."

The result? Many kids can't sit still in class. They might fidget, lack confidence, or have difficulty paying attention. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), about 7.8 percent of kids ages four to 17 had been diagnosed with Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) as of 2003. By 2007, that number jumped to 9.5 percent. As of 2011, 11 percent of kids are estimated to have ADHD. Experts say the rise in incidence is due to increased awareness of the condition, changes in diagnostic criteria, and developments in medication treatment.

Additionally, says Hanscom, founder of child development program TimberNook, a lack of physical activity can cause kids to have trouble concentrating. Only one out of 12 children in many classrooms has normal strength and balance, she says. And so "children naturally start fidgeting in order to get the movement their body so desperately needs and is not getting enough of to 'turn their brain on.'" Hanscom suggests more movement and more play for all kids.

Movement can also help improve eLearning. A Slate article describes a variety of interactive programs that help kids incorporate physical action to boost comprehension. One "embodied learning" program called Alien Health has kids choose nutritious foods to feed to an alien. From there, the program, designed for second through tenth graders, motivates kids to dance, jump, and do short exercises in order to help the alien digest his healthy foods.

"One reason involving the body improves learning," New America Foundation fellow Annie Murphy Paul writes, "is that bodily movements provide the memory with additional cues with which to represent and retrieve the knowledge learned."

Physical activity can also be part of a successful classroom management plan. While inactivity can contribute to disruptions and students wandering off task, "There is research that indicates that implementing exercise activities throughout the day can help . . . reduce disruptive classroom and problem behaviors," writes teacher Carrie Braniff, who conducted an action research study on the effects of movement on learning. Learn more [PDF] about her findings and her students' perceptions of their active classroom.

What do you think? Do you use dancing, games, stretching, or movement to enhance learning or support positive behavior in your classroom? 

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