Playing Outside Makes Kids Smarter

Filed under: Opinions

kids climbing a treeSchools are cutting recess -- that's a shame -- but parents also need to make an effort to get kids out of the house and into the yard.

In the race to help kids get ahead academically, American schools seem to take a spaghetti at the wall approach: testing, longer school days, smaller classes, more testing and cutting recess in favor of math, science or whatever else is deemed more important to growing brains. But listen up: Recess -- or any outdoor play -- may trump them all.

A recent study of nearly 11,000 kids ages 8 and 9 found that those who had more than 15 minutes of recess each day were better behaved in class than those who had less recess time, or none at all. This is true across the board -- gender, ethnicity, class size and type of school made no difference.

In other words, recess promotes better classroom behavior, which in turn, promotes better learning. How do we know that? Because last month, a group of researchers at Harvard reported that kids who passed more physical fitness tests than their peers also did better academically than those same peers.

Still not convinced?

In a small study of children with ADHD conducted last year, researchers found that kids who were exposed to trees and grass -- as opposed to streets and buildings -- scored better when tested for attention and concentration. The theory is that a natural environment allows the brain to rest, recover and be ready for more learning.

I find all of this both fascinating and completely logical. Of course kids who have a break are better behaved in class. But here's the odd thing. Most of the kids I know don't play outside other than at school. Parents are too worried about bug bites and allergies and scrapes; we think it's too hot or too cold to be out. We don't like dirty faces or hands or shoes. So we look for ways for our kids to play indoors, by signing them up for gymnastics classes, buying them Wiis, and joining indoor pools.

Which is sad, really.

My kids play outside every day, barring dangerous weather, like an impending tornado or thunderstorm. When it's cold, they put on hats and coats; when it is hot, they drink lots of water and wear sunscreen. And yes, they get bug bites and skinned knees, and yes they have allergies. But they are also doing well in school, both academically and behaviorally, even my kid with ADHD. I honestly think it's because they spend some part of every day running around outside.

It's too bad that recess is being phased out of so many schools, but that's not the whole picture. School isn't the only place kids can play outside. Parents need to make an effort to get kids out of the house and into the yard. Sure they'll come in dirty and tired, but in the long run, they will also be smarter and better behaved. Just because they ran around and looked at trees.

Do your kids play outside? Do you worry about it, or is it part of their day?

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.