There is a growing amount of evidence that you can improve listening and learning in children by allowing them more play-time and interactive activities, while reducing the time they sit still at a desk or table.
A report from the Institute of Medicine released a couple of years ago showed that children “who are more active show greater attention, have faster cognitive processing speed, and perform better on standardized academic tests than children who are less active.”
What’s more, data from the American Academy of Pediatrics indicates recess is “a crucial and necessary component of a child’s development.” According to their study, physical activity and breaks from stationary learning improve cognitive, social, and emotional development.
Over the last several years, a growing body of research on the human body has identified that sitting for prolonged periods of time (longer than 20 minutes, in fact), causes the brain to start to fall asleep. This is because movement helps deliver oxygen to the brain, whereas sitting reduces oxygen, glucose, and other chemicals the brain needs to fuel thinking. With children, the need for physical activity is even more important since their brains are still developing.
Educators are beginning to speculate that increased playtime and activity could be one of the reasons why homeschoolers and some school systems in the world are more successful academically than their US counterparts.
In Finland, for example, students have 15 minutes of physical activity, which can include playtime, and 45 minutes of learning every hour. Observations of Finnish classrooms from US teachers suggest that the classroom curriculum, lessons, and teaching styles do not differ greatly between the US and Finland. And yet, Finnish students out-perform their American peers in a number of subjects.
What accounts for the difference? The same observers from the US believe that the increased playtime made Finnish students more eager to learn and gave them more energy.
For many homeschoolers, the idea of increasing activity to improve learning is not a new one. In fact, it is the personalized learning environment and ability to integrate more outside activities that attracts parents to homeschooling in the first place.
However, the temptation to overcompensate and increase instructional time is very real. The constant focus on academic achievement and measuring performance to standards has many parents and educators believing that more time, not less, needs to be spent on direct instruction. Homeschooling families, especially new ones, often feel pressure to validate that their decision to withdraw a child from the public school system is not to the child’s detriment.
This why it is important to look at the data on the benefits of increased playtime, as well as common sense when homeschooling your child.
The truth is – our kids are built to be active. By giving them more opportunities for playtime and interactive activities, you can improve their academic performance, social skills, and overall health.