"We just wrote for an hour, I don't want to do this worksheet!"
"My legs hurt from sitting so much!"
"I can't focus!"
These are common complaints I hear from the second grade students I work with every day. These students work hard all day and are pushed from one activity to the next in order to get everything done on time. I find myself giving frequent reminders to "focus on your work" or to "try to get this done because we only have five more minutes until we transition to the next activity." If I were in their shoes, I too would have some of the complaints above. Children need more time to play without instruction, not only so they will be refreshed and ready to learn, but also so they can preserve their own mental, emotional and physical well-being.
Many schools in the United States give only 15 minutes of recess for the entire school day. Schools in Finland give their students a 15 minute break for every 45 minutes of work they do. Many teachers and parents in the United States may look at Finland's approach as too much play and not enough time for work to get done but, as a future teacher who sees kids struggle to maintain focus on a daily basis, I believe that this is an approach that U.S. schools should look into.
I am lucky to work with a teacher that tries to incorporate movement and breaks into her routine for the students. This teacher gives her students time to be creative -- every Monday morning the kids play with blocks and every Friday these students get to let out their energy with "Friday Fun," giving students the freedom to do a puzzle, talk with classmates, draw or whatever they are not able to do during the normal instruction time. Another great break the kids get during the day is a "Body Break," which allows students to play Simon Says, try some yoga poses or watch a GoNoodle video. GoNoodle videos get kids moving when they are restless from working all day and can help refocus their energy when they get a little too crazy. Kids love GoNoodle, and finish feeling refreshed and ready to learn!
Although all of these in-class breaks are wonderful, there still needs to be a push for more outdoor, unstructured playtime for kids. When you push kids to work and work and work without a break they are going to become distracted, restless, frustrated and eventually just burn out. Many adults may think that the work children have to do isn't very hard so they don't need as many breaks or that other countries are above the U.S. in academics so there is no time for more playtime. We need to take a step back and remember that these are just kids. Even as an adult in the classroom, sometimes I forget that the work I am encouraging them to complete that may seem easy to me is actually challenging for them. Kids have so much potential and room to grow. As adults in their lives, we should be fostering their growth with playtime not setting them back with stress. With more playtime we will discover happy, healthy, determined students.