What Do Recess & Free Play Have to Do With Our Children's Mental Health?

Kids Need Play and Recess. Their Mental Health May Depend On It.

The above Education Week post, written by Michael J. Hynes, E.D., Superintendent of Schools for the Patchogue-Medford School District (Long Island, NY), is a call for action for communities to implement more recess and free (=self-directed) play to provide kids with the opportunity to learn to "take control of their lives," which mitigates against anxiety and depression. 

Free and unstructured play with other children and without adult supervision foster children's development decision-making. They learn to manage their emotions and figure out how to get along with others. Children develop competence, resilience and their internal sense of control.

As our children's free play and recess have been replaced with structured play and organized activities over the years, anxiety and depression rates among U.S. school children have risen sharply due to the lack of internal control. Hynes draws on research by Peter Gray, developmental psychologist at Boston College, who notes that the presence of anxiety and depression is closely related to people's sense of control (or lack thereof) they have over their lives.

DuPage County, Illinois. According to the 2018 Illinois Youth Survey (IYS) data, 26% of 8th graders, 29% of 10th graders and 31% of 12th graders in DuPage County have "[felt] so sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more in a row that you stopped doing some usual activities" in the past 12 monthsAsked if they had  considered "seriously attempting suicide" in the previous 12 months, 15% of both 10th and 12th graders responded that they had.

Call to Action. Hynes believes that "there is one noteworthy reason that has contributed to this mental health crisis like no other, recess and play are on the endangered species list in our public schools."  He has implemented 40 minutes of recess and 40  minutes of lunch in all elementary schools in his school district and challenges school leaders to "focus on the benefits children receive outside of the classroom and on the playground. Indoor/outdoor free play and recess benefits the development of physical, emotional, academic and social skills."




Photo by Andrew Seaman on Unsplash