Tuesday, January 27, 2015

In Defense of Recess

These days it seems there is more pressure than ever on schools, and subsequently students, to do well academically. More time is being given to preparing for standardized tests, with necessary breaks like lunch and especially recess taking a backseat to lesson plans. Of course no one is going to deny a child their midday meal, but many schools throughout the United States are seeing their recess time disappear. Those in charge claim that the scheduled free time is a "waste," and would be better spent drilling multiplication tables or writing essays, but a study recently released by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) seems to suggest otherwise.

The AAP has declared that recess is not only beneficial, but necessary to a child's overall development. When recess is delayed, or denied altogether, students are less focused and therefore less likely to retain the information being taught. Think about it: When was the last time you tried to sit and concentrate for 7 hours straight with only a 20-30 minute lunch in between? This is an incredibly difficult task for even an adult to handle, so why would we demand it from our children? After a certain amount of time, the brain needs a break to absorb everything it just learned. Without an opportunity to "mentally digest," students turn restless and inattentive, and it becomes increasingly difficult for them to process any new information. Thus, even though it seems like children should be learning more by spending more time in the classroom, keeping them in ultimately has the opposite effect.

Believing that students learn nothing while engaging in free playtime is also a false assumption. Not only do periodic breaks help children (and adolescents) process new information, they also help with stress management. Movement during recess counterbalances sedentary class time; the AAP recommends at least 60 minutes of activity per day to counteract obesity, which is why recess should be held in addition to PE classes. For younger children, free play is crucial to their overall cognitive and social development, as it is during this time that they learn social competence and hone their motor skills. Because of these benefits, recess should never be withheld for punitive or academic reasons; not only is this tactic detrimental to the student, but to the school he or she attends as well. Test scores can fluctuate for any number of reasons, but one thing is clear: Denying children their regularly scheduled recess time is not, and will never be the best solution.

Take a minute to check out the recess policies in your school district.  If you suspect that your child is not getting the allotted recess time, or that recess is being withheld for punitive reasons, get in touch with the teacher or school administrator right away to discuss alternative options.

To read the entire report published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, click here.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Would Your Child Enjoy A Book Group?

Do your children read for pleasure? Reading for pleasure is one of the best ways to improve vocabulary, grammar, writing, spelling, reading comprehension, reading fluency, and general academic performance. However, kids today often have limited free time and a variety of enticing diversions other than reading.

In the adult world, book groups are popular all over. I have been a member of the same book group for about seven years. We meet at a Chinese restaurant about once a month and take turns choosing the book. In between meetings, I talk to my mom and my friends to see what they are reading in their book groups. Some groups meet at homes and others at restaurants, but almost all involve food and socializing.

When my daughter was in 4th grade, we started a neighborhood book group for 4th grade girls, which lasted 4 years, meeting every other week in the afternoon.  They even met in the summers, and everyone took turns bringing snacks. We hired a teacher who ran the group, which was incredibly helpful for keeping discussions interesting and on track. The teacher chose some books, while the children would occasionally chose others. They discussed the books and also did some fun hands-on projects to bring the books alive. We even went on a few field trips, to a used book store, a movie, and a couple of restaurants. When the teacher was no longer available, parents alternated leading the group.  My daughter looked forward to these lively meetings and enjoyed reading the books.  She was always reading for pleasure, even beyond the book group.

If your child likes to read and has a few friends and neighbors who do too, you can set up a book group. Here are some tips to help make it work:
  • Make the book group a positive, fun experience. Allow some time for socializing and snacks.
  • The children should participate in choosing the books, regardless of who makes the final decision. The book choices should be high quality, but also interesting - page turners are great!
  • Ages and genders can be mixed or separate.
  • The size of the group should be at least five, but preferably more. Students and their parents should be committed to attendance. Treat this book group as you would any other after-school activity.
  • It is a good idea to vary genres, including fiction, historical fiction, science fiction, biography, mystery, and nonfiction.
  • Someone should be in charge of leading each discussion and focusing on the book for most of the time. The leader can be a hired teacher, tutor, or parent; if the students would like to lead the group themselves, have them take turns, but always have a parent oversee everything. Each book leader should do some advanced preparation like writing a list of questions and preparing an activity.
  • Reading the book must be a requirement to attend. If a child consistently does not read the book or misses meetings, he or she should be dismissed from the group.
  • Members of the group do not have to live in the immediate neighborhood but should be able to get to the group easily.
Please feel free to share this information. The more children we can get to read for pleasure on a regular basis, the more educated our society will become.