Ageless Considerations for the Ongoing Inclusion of Play, Recess, and Physical Education

Article excerpt

Financial incentives stemming from the Race to the Top Assessment Program (U.S. Department of Education, 2010) have forced many school district leaders to scramble for additional academic learning time. Regretably, some principals will decrease or eliminate recess time. Others will restructure after-school programs to include private or small-group tutoring sessions, and still others will reduce the number of weekly physical education class sessions. Teachers may be able to counteract these ludicrous actions by displaying and circulating earlier JOPERD articles that have focused on the childhood obesity crisis. They could also communicate the thoughts of early educational leaders in order to present greater theoretical support for the ongoing inclusion of different physical activity offerings. The wisdom of these leaders has served generations of elementary school teachers seeking rationales for recess and physical education during severe budget cuts.

The importance of children's play and physical activity has been discussed by many early educators in various cultures. The Moravian-born educator Johannes Amos Comenius (1592-1670) espoused a philosophy of "universal knowledge" and identified children's play as a way for boys and girls to avoid the drudgery and tedium of intense study (Comenius, 1967, 1969). Comenius's (1967) master plan for teaching provided one-hour blocks of learning assignments directly followed by a free play period. During these play periods, children manipulated "tools" reflecting a favorite adult occupation (p. 117), and enjoyed each other's "company" through games that would "give vigor and health to the body" (p. 206). It is fair to say that Comenius would be a staunch supporter of daily scheduled recess and physical education. Moreover, Comenius (1969) identified seven elements of children's play--motion, spontaneity, company, competition, order, ease of performance, and a pleasant aim--which are characteristic of modern-day recess and many physical education lessons.

The Swiss educational reformer Johann Pestalozzi (1746-1827) viewed play as an instrument for learning when children use their powers of observation and senses to solve simple problems (Pestalozzi, 1894). Pestalozzi's belief in "self activity" and in giving children opportunities for "playing with words" make a case for the value of recess activities such as word games, riddles, tongue twisters, pantomimes, and brain-teasers. In addition, his study of Rousseau's novel Emile (1762) influenced his belief that schoolyards should be filled with natural green vegetation and elements such as trees to climb, mounds of dirt to scale, bushes to hide under or leap over, leaves to jump in, and strategically placed rocks or stepping stones to maneuver along. Such natural elements have also been used as props for many activities in physical education.

Play as an actual pedagogical tool (i.e., the belief that young children learn better through play instead of formal instruction) was first introduced in Germany in 1826 by Friedrich Frobel (1782-1852). Frobel's work emphasized that children learn through imaginative play and while playing with small manipulatives (Frobel, 1887). Frobel's beliefs suggest that in recess and physical education children are exposed to geometry and tabulation concepts when devising scoring systems for child-created games and to physics (e.g., the degrees of force, angles, tension, speed, gravity) when utilizing large muscles on playground apparatus.

In contrast, the German philosopher Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1805) interpreted play as a nonproductive expenditure of exuberant energy (von Schiller, 1875). When an animal, an adult, or a child is free from work, harm, hunger, fatigue, or other physiological stressors, it naturally desires play and physical activity. Schiller's belief would coincide with that of teachers who see the need to give children a break outdoors to clear their head in the fresh air. …