Tracks and Tales: Let?s Play

Everything has its place.  Sometimes, though, it becomes difficult to find time to fit everything in to an already tight schedule.

During one of my recent field trips, the students? day was split in half.  They spent the morning in groups, rotating around several stations.  After lunch, for a couple of hours, they could fish and/or enjoy the park.  This year, ?enjoying the park? included a teacher-led scavenger hunt, investigating the family of geese, tag on the playground, kickball, and just wandering around the ponds.

Although I have arranged this trip for years now, I never gave it much thought.  The teachers wanted the kids to have time fishing and those not interested in fishing just found other ways to amuse themselves.  This year, while checking on the different groups of students, I ran into a couple out for a nice stroll.  While talking to them, I realized what we were really giving the kids in their ?free time.?

With the way schedules are so hectic, sometimes we equate free time as goofing-off time.  Something non-productive and undesirable.  Yet, free time has its place as well and sometimes that leads to greater productivity.

Rarely will anyone argue the necessity of structured learning.  Students do need to know math, reading, writing, science, social studies, etc.  Many others can argue successfully in favor of gym and organized sports.  Harder to endorse, but not impossible, are the non-academics of music, art and drama.  Recess, on the other hand, tends to be regarded more of a break, more needed for the shorter attention span of little kids than bigger ones.

However, recess and other such unstructured time is just as important to brain development and maintenance as the curriculum.  While you may not be able to give the students a test on what they did that afternoon, they did learn, albeit in a more abstract manner.

In no particular order, here are some things they learned.  They discovered they could entertain themselves without electronics.  They developed critical social skills through interacting with their peers on their own terms.  Some even discovered territorial geese behavior.  One figured out that string and a hook is all you need to catch fish.  Another discovered the woods held wonderfully distracting scenery.  They created their own rules for group interaction and play, leading them to discover how to govern themselves and others.  They learned about their own boundaries, what they were willing and unwilling to do, and stood by them.  They paid attention to their surroundings at their own pace and discovered things about nature on their own.  In some ways, they applied much of what they learned in the classroom, without even thinking about it.  And since they had a good time, they forged positive memories about the outdoors and fresh air that will last a lifetime.

Even science lately has gotten behind the bandwagon of the importance of such unstructured play.  Different studies support how such play as well as the outdoors aids in developing healthy minds, emotions, social relationships as well as physical health.  It even helps with such issues as attention deficit disorder and increases healing time.

As we finish spring, and head into summer, let us not forget our own memories of play.  Let us encourage such adventures in our own children.  Both brains and bodies need rest from structure, more than just sleep can give.  Fortunately, the county owns and manages over 2,000 acres of land for such enjoyment as hiking, biking, picnicking, hunting, fishing, wildlife watching, playing, and much more.

If that?s not enough, we still have openings in our day camps, where the morning spans from structured to kid-directed activities.  Check out our website:  co.washington.ia.us for more information on those camps.

And let?s go play.