It’s Back-to-School time again. Even though I know the September Equinox is the official end of summer, I’m always a little sad this time of year as I remember myself as a youth interpreting it as the end of sunshine, outdoors, freedom and frolic.
Last Friday I watched the Canadian Show Nature of Things’ episode The Power of Play. The show introduced a variety of scholars conducting research on play: Gordon Burghardt, University of Tennessee; Stuart Brown, known as the grandfather of play; Vancouver researcher Mariana Brussoni; and Norwegian psychologist Ellen Sandseter among others. Watching the show, particularly at this time of year, got me to thinking about all of the children and teens making the switch from their summer months off into the daily routine of school.
Some young people may not have had exciting summers and are looking forward to returning to the schedule of classes. I’ll bet though there are others who had summers filled with family vacations, camp, and day trips or just hanging with their friends. They might be anxious about the transition from variety to mundane.
Historically, schools have been orderly, methodical, and consistent. They were created by organized, formal, authorities to churn out results. Students are told what to do and when to do it. There is little freedom. Although recently pedagogy practice has evolved to include more interaction and less direction, many classrooms are still ‘old school’ and certainly not conducive to all personality types or learning styles.
Consider the individual who is naturally energetic, spontaneous and adventurous. Likely their attention span isn’t very long. I’m not talking about ADD or ADHD; I’m talking about the brain that needs stimulation and lots of activity. Fitting into this structured environment might be a challenge at best. At worst, he/she is likely to find him/herself in the principle’s office on a regular basis. I was one of those kids.
Play is serious business. Researchers have discovered that play (spontaneous, often repetitive actions for no particular reason and solely for amusement) is a necessary part of prefrontal cortex development where planning, decision making and impulse control occur. Play helps to develop perception of others’ emotions and there is a relationship between play and ability to cope. Furthermore, risky play (thrilling but not really dangerous) helps young children extend their limits and try different ways of doing things to achieve success.
So, parents and grandparents, this school season make sure the children in your life have sufficient time to be silly. Let them have a play break after school before they must sit down to do their homework. Encourage them to spend some time outdoors climbing trees and exploring nature. Allow them to have some rough and tumble activity. You might have to hold your breath or look the other way from time to time, but I’m sure they will be healthier and happier for it.