Education

Set them free?

By Kevin Bushweller — October 13, 2006 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

“We are deeply concerned that current trends in early education, fueled by political pressure, are leading to an emphasis on unproven methods of academic instruction and unreliable standardized testing that can undermine learning and damage young children’s healthy development.”

That is the opening line of a Call to Action on the Education of Young Children, which the Alliance for Childhood is promoting in the wake of a recent report by the American Academy of Pediatrics suggesting that too little time for free play is leading to increased stress for children and missed opportunities for them to learn how to take initiative and be creative. The Call to Action was actually first released almost a year ago, but the alliance is promoting it again in light of this recent report.

In a nutshell, the alliance argues that children have too little time for so called “unstructured play” -- which in my days as a schoolboy was simply called playtime. The signers of the call to action include Harvard professors Howard Gardner and Kathleen McCartney, pediatricians T. Berry Brazelton and Mel Levine, as well as child psychiatrists Kyle Pruett, Alvin Poussaint, and Stanley Greenspan.

As a journalist, I am always a bit skeptical of these “call to actions,” because more often than not they exaggerate the problem, and engage in what I call “crisis-speak.” There is little balance in what they have to say.

Still, I’ve been thinking about this issue a lot lately, because this debate is undeniably connected to student motivation. If children do not have enough free time to play with their friends and investigate their environments, they are likely to be less happy and creative. And if that is the state of their minds, they are also less likely to be motivated in school.

Don’t misread me. I do not envision schools where children have unlimited free play time, and study only whatever they happened to be interested in. That seems like a recipe for classroom chaos and questionable academic standards. But I do envision a little more leeway, because I think it can pay off.

I plan to test this theory in my life as a youth sports coach.

Over the years, as a youth sports coach in soccer, ice hockey and lacrosse, I have noticed some troubling traits among today’s young athletes. While they tend to be more technically skilled than we were at their age, they are less creative and seem to have trouble with the concept of initiative. They rarely play pickup games with their friends, as we did on ice-covered ponds and basketball courts all the time. As a consequence, they don’t react as instinctively and creatively as we did even if their skills are better. Too often, in games, my players look confused when something happens that wasn’t covered in a drill in practice. If something isn’t scripted, they almost seem lost. So my plan is to set them free ... by giving them more “free time” in practices to simply play. We’ll see how it goes ...

More important, though, is this question: If I am seeing these traits among young athletes, are educators also seeing them in their classrooms? Please comment on what you’ve seen in your classrooms and how that might be connected to the issue of free time.

What do you think? Do we need to set these kids free? Or is the allilance exaggerating the problem?

A version of this news article first appeared in the Motivation Matters blog.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP