On Monday, on the front page of the New York Times was the following article about a school in Newark, New Jersey that hired a "recess coach" to get kids to play during recess: Forget Playing Around: Recess Has a New Boss. Being a fan of play, I read this article with both a tinge of sadness (that it seems that nowadays you have to teach a kid to play) and relief (finally, they're accepting how important play is for kids!). I'm impressed that this school is taking movement and recess seriously, and not allowing kids to stand around with the excuse that "I don't know how to play." I'm sure this is the direction Michelle Obama's Let's Move campaign is wanting to go in. Teaching play-deprived children the rules of play can prevent behavior problems, and bolster physical, and cognitive learning. Our brains develop through movement. Without it we're in trouble.
Dr. Stuart Brown, head of the National Institute for Play, wrote a paper called Play - Evolutionary, Universal & Essential in which he describes how play shapes our central nervous system and "...is absolutely necessary for the development of empathy, social altruism and other social behaviors needed to handle stress." These changes occur at the brain level. As a Somatic Educator, the absence of play in children lets me know that there will be a generation of kids growing up who are proprioceptively ignorant as well; the basic movement vocabulary of reaching, pulling, pushing, jumping, running, squatting, rolling and bending will not develop in their nervous systems and their future will, undoubtedly, include chronic muscular pain.
And although some respondents to the New York Times article were chagrined that a child should need to be taught how to play, it is a serious problem for many kids – both suburban, but predominantly urban children. Parents no longer allow their children unfettered freedom to go outdoors and wander, play, meet new friends. I can only encourage parents and teachers to reintroduce games, like hopscotch, jump rope, tag, hide-and-seek, and kickball. It's a start anyway.
Gotta go - time to play with my little neighbor next door! Our favorite game is "...I'm gonna get you!" What's your favorite game?