June 14, 2024

Play 60? Not in the USA!

It’s Superbowl Sunday (Go Saints!) and I just saw the first of what will undoubtedly be many public service Play60announcements for Play 60, the NFL’s campaign to encourage play.

Are there children averse to play? Seems to me that play is the natural state of children.

So, who stole play? Is a play-eating virus ravishing our nation?

The real enemies of play are the folks who set school policy from the President of the United States down to some local school principals. That’s who is responsible for turning classrooms into joyless test-prep sweatshops free of recess, blocks, dress-up corners and increasingly, even physical education.

For too many American public school students, playing 60 minutes per day is as big of fantasy as a Detroit Lions Superbowl threepeat.

Consider my nephews, named “94th Percentile” and “Exceeds Expectations.” They live in a community 40 miles from New York City. There has NEVER been recess in their elementary or middle schools. After a rushed 20-minute silent lunch ( school is about socialization, right?), the kids are forced to participate in some forced march, called “Walk/Run.”

Due to a 45-minute commute.  94th and Exceeds board the school bus at 7 AM and return home at dusk. They then rush through a meal with their parents, followed by an hour or two of their parents yelling at them to complete their meaningless homework and then bedtime. Sometimes, there’s even time for a shower.

What there isn’t time for is play – or trumpet practice, bike riding, answering their uncle’s email, reading a book, karate or Scouts.

Obama for Play 60My young nephews hear President Obama call for a longer school day and think he should lay off the Gummy Bears. He just can’t be thinking clearly!

Playing for 60 minutes per day is a swell idea. I think kids should play as much as possible – all sorts of play, not just sports. That’s how kids learn, create, develop interpersonal skills and become productive citizens. The NFL Play60 campaign targets childhood obesity. Could school violence and the epidemic of attention deficit disorders possibly be rooted in a lack of play?

It’s also ironic that the NFL is combatting childhood obesity while simultaneously encouraging teenagers to weigh 300 pounds and sign 13 year-olds to USC football.

In Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, John Taylor Gatto reminds us that one of the lessons of school is surveillance:

I teach children that they are being watched. I keep each student under constant surveillance and so do my colleagues. There are no private spaces for children; there is no private time. Class change lasts 300 seconds to keep promiscuous fraternization at low levels. Students are encouraged to tattle on each other, even to tattle on their parents. Of course I encourage parents to file their own child’s waywardness, too.

I assign “homework” so that this surveillance extends into the household, where students might otherwise use the time to learn something unauthorized, perhaps from a father or mother, or by apprenticing to some wiser person in the neighborhood. (Gatto, 1991)

We would not have to “Save the Music” or create a charity advocating childhood play if we adults did the right thing and cared for children! Why don’t we try that at least 60 minutes per day?


6 thoughts on “Play 60? Not in the USA!

  1. It depresses me that this issue even has to be discussed. It seems clear that most adults have not thought much about their own childhoods to recall that the most important things they learned weren’t learned through traditional lessons. What does it say about our society that we don’t want to allow children time to be children and learn in ways that hold real meaning for them? Have we thought at all about what we truly want for our children?

  2. Here’s an idea…

    Why not have Arne Duncan, President Obama or even boards of education make like anUndercover Boss and see what it’s really like to teach, better yet, learn in the classrooms they set policy for?

    Thanks for sharing this post. It, unfortunately, describes, all too well, how I’ve been feeling about the pressures educators are under and students are experiencing (including my own) in school. Now, when I’m not playing, I’ll have to get started on that reflection on my Taking Play Seriously session at EduCon 2.2 I’ve been meaning to write.

  3. Exercise is fun and important for developing collaboration skills. How come we talk about 21st century skills without making sure the important 20th century skills are preserved? Not sure this will work in an education system that is driven by high-stakes testing. The DOE will have to amend NCLB to include how fast kids can run (literally).

  4. Well said. Even as adults, we need to play, and our busy lives have made that difficult as well. Perhaps all of the big people need to re-experience the value of play that they have forgotten. For a fleeting moment I sometimes compare my less-busy children to the neighbors’ very busy children and think that I am not doing enough for them. Then, I snap out of that moment of insanity only to open my eyes and see what they are doing around me… and join in!

  5. I echo both John & Steve’s comments. It’s unfortunate, but I think that the compulsion to drive kids to “achieve” may ultimately be to their detriment. Therefore I think that we need to look out for our kids to ensure that they can have fun, enjoy recess and develop into “normal” adults.

  6. Bill, you are so right, it IS up to US, the parents, to look and make sure that our kids have fun. That is why I, along with some other parents in my town, kept on our BOE until we did get a Recess Policy for our school. That is why I, along with some other parents, called our Assemblyman and Senator and got Bills introduced in to Legistature. Unfortunately those bills died (A467 did pass full Assembly vote, but S226 was never put to the Senate floor for vote and thus both bills died.)
    BUT — good news! This year NJ Senator Shirley Turner has introduced Bill S442. They synopsis of this bill is “Requires a public school district to provide a daily recess period for students in grades kindergarten through 5.” I am so thrilled to see this bill, it reads almost word for word the very letter I wrote to Senator Turner and testified in front of the Senate Education committee asking them to support S226 just 2 years ago.
    We are asking all NJ citizens write to their Senators and ask their support of this bill. And we ask people in other states to write their Sentators and tell them to LOOK at this bill! We need this all over our country! Our children are NOT getting a break!
    Go to our website for info on how to contact NJ Senators:

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