Archives for category: Play

William Doyle and Pasi Sahlberg have reimagined the school: Let the children play!

They are the authors of a new book with that title.

They write in an article for CNN:

When the novel coronavirus is no longer as great a threat and schools finally reopen, we should give children the one thing they will need most after enduring months of isolation, stress, physical restraint and woefully inadequate, screen-based remote learning. We should give them playtime — and lots of it.

As in-person classes begin, education administrators will presumably follow the safety guidelines of health authorities for smaller classes, staggered schedules, closing or regularly cleaning communal spaces with shared equipment, regular health checks and other precautions. But despite the limitations this may place on the students’ physical environment, schools should look for safe ways to supercharge children’s learning and well-being.

We propose that schools adopt a 90-day “golden age of play,” our term for a transitional period when traditional academic education should be balanced as much as possible with learning through play, physical and creative outlets and mental health counseling to provide support for children who will need it.

Play gives children a wide range of critical cognitive, physical, emotional and social benefits. The American Academy of Pediatrics, representing the nation’s 67,000 children’s doctors, stated in a 2012 clinical report that “play, in all its forms, needs to be considered as the ideal educational and developmental milieu for children,” including for children in poverty, and noted that “the lifelong success of children is based on their ability to be creative and to apply the lessons learned from playing.”

David Berliner, one of our nation’s most eminent researchers, advises parents not to worry that their children are “falling behind.” School is important. Instruction is important. But “soft skills” and non—cognitive skills matter more in the long term than academic skills. Relax.

He sent this advice to the blog:

Worried About Those “Big” Losses on School Tests Because Of Extended Stays At Home? They May Not Even Happen,
And If They Do, They May Not Matter Much At All!

David C. Berliner
Regents Professor Emeritus
Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College
Arizona State University
Tempe, AZ.

Although my mother passed away many years ago, I need now to make a public confession about a crime she committed year in and year out. When I was young, she prevented me from obtaining one year of public schooling. Surely that must be a crime!

Let me explain. Every year my mother took me out of school for three full weeks following the Memorial Day weekend. Thus, every single year, from K through 9th grade, I was absent from school for 3 weeks. Over time I lost about 30 weeks of schooling. With tonsil removal, recurring Mastoiditis, broken bones, and more than the average ordinary childhood illnesses, I missed a good deal of elementary schooling.
How did missing that much schooling hurt me? Not at all!

First, I must explain why my mother would break the law. In part it was to get me out of New York City as the polio epidemic hit U.S. cities from June through the summer months. For each of those summers, my family rented one room for the whole family in a rooming house filled with working class families at a beach called Rockaway. It was outside the urban area, but actually still within NYC limits.

I spent the time swimming every day, playing ball and pinochle with friends, and reading. And then, I read some more. Believe it or not, for kids like me, leaving school probably enhanced my growth! I was loved, I had great adventures, I conversed with adults in the rooming house, I saw many movies, I read classic comics, and even some “real” literature. I read series after series written for young people: Don Sturdy, Tom Swift, the Hardy Boys, as well as books by Robert Louis Stevenson and Alexander Dumas.

So now, with so many children out of school, and based on all the time I supposedly lost, I will make a prediction: every child who likes to read, every child with an interest in building computers or in building model bridges, planes, skyscrapers, autos, or anything else complex, or who plays a lot of “Fortnite,” or “Minecraft,” or plays non-computer but highly complex games such as “Magic,” or “Ticket to Ride,” or “Codenames” will not lose anything measurable by staying home. If children are cared for emotionally, have interesting stuff to play with, and read stories that engage them, I predict no deficiencies in school learning will be detectable six to nine months down the road.
It is the kids, rich or poor, without the magic ingredients of love and safety in their family, books to engage them, and interesting mind-engaging games to play, who may lose a few points on the tests we use to measure school learning. There are many of those kinds of children in the nation, and it is sad to contemplate that.

But then, what if they do lose a few points on the achievement tests currently in use in our nation and in each of our states? None of those tests predict with enough confidence much about the future life those kids will live. That is because it is not just the grades that kids get in school, nor their scores on tests of school knowledge, that predict success in college and in life. Soft skills, which develop as well during their hiatus from school as they do when they are in school, are excellent predictors of a child’s future success in life.

Really? Deke and Haimson (2006), working for Mathmatica, the highly respected social science research organization, studied the relationship between academic competence and some “soft” skills on some of the important outcomes in life after high school. They used high school math test scores as a proxy for academic competency, since math scores typically correlate well with most other academic indices. The soft skills they examined were a composite score from high school data that described each students’ work habits, measurement of sports related competence, a pro-social measure, a measure of leadership, and a measure of locus of control.

The researchers’ question, just as is every teacher’s and school counselor’s question, was this: If I worked on improving one of these academic or soft skills, which would give that student the biggest bang for the buck as they move on with their lives?

Let me quote their results (emphasis by me)
Increasing math test scores had the largest effect on earnings for a plurality of the students, but most students benefited more from improving one of the nonacademic competencies. For example, with respect to earnings eight years after high school, increasing math test scores would have been most effective for just 33 percent of students, but 67 percent would have benefited more from improving a nonacademic competency. Many students would have secured the largest earnings benefit from improvements in locus of control (taking personal responsibility) (30 percent) and sports-related competencies (20 percent). Similarly, for most students, improving one of the nonacademic competencies would have had a larger effect than better math scores on their chances of enrolling in and completing a postsecondary program.

​This was not new. Almost 50 years ago, Bowles and Gintis (1976), on the political left, pointed out that an individual’s noncognitive behaviors were perhaps more important than their cognitive skills in determining the kinds of outcomes the middle and upper middle classes expect from their children. Shortly after Bowles and Gintis’s treatise, Jencks and his colleagues (1979), closer to the political right, found little evidence that cognitive skills, such as those taught in school, played a big role in occupational success.

Employment usually depends on certificates or licenses—a high school degree, an Associate’s degree, a 4-year college degree or perhaps an advanced degree. Social class certainly affects those achievements. But Jenks and his colleagues also found that industriousness, leadership, and good study habits in high school were positively associated with higher occupational attainment and earnings, even after controlling for social class. It’s not all about grades, test scores, and social class background: Soft skills matter a lot!

Lleras (2008), 10 years after she studied a group of 10th grade students, found that those students with better social skills, work habits, and who also participated in extracurricular activities in high school had higher educational attainment and earnings, even after controlling for cognitive skills! Student work habits and conscientiousness were positively related to educational attainment and this in turn, results in higher earnings.

It is pretty simple: students who have better work habits have higher earnings in the labor market because they are able to complete more years of schooling and their bosses like them. In addition, Lleras’s study and others point to the persistent importance of motivation in predicting earnings, even after taking into account education. The Lleras study supports the conclusions reached by Jencks and his colleagues (1979), that noncognitive behaviors of secondary students were as important as cognitive skills in predicting later earnings.
So, what shall we make of all this? I think poor and wealthy parents, educated and uneducated parents, immigrant or native-born parents, all have the skills to help their children succeed in life. They just need to worry less about their child’s test scores and more about promoting reading and stimulating their children’s minds through interesting games – something more than killing monsters and bad guys. Parents who promote hobbies and building projects are doing the right thing. So are parents who have their kids tell them what they learned from watching a PBS nature special or from watching a video tour of a museum. Parents also do the right thing when they ask, after their child helps a neighbor, how the doing of kind acts makes their child feel. This is the “stuff” in early life that influences a child’s success later in life even more powerfully than do their test scores.

So, repeat after me all you test concerned parents: non-academic skills are more powerful than academic skills in life outcomes. This is not to gainsay for a minute the power of instruction in literacy and numeracy at our schools, nor the need for history and science courses. Intelligent citizenship and the world of work require subject matter knowledge. But I hasten to remind us all that success in many areas of life is not going to depend on a few points lost on state tests that predict so little. If a child’s stay at home during this pandemic is met with love and a chance to do something interesting, I have little concern about that child’s, or our nation’s, future.

Bowles, S., & Gintis, H. (1976). Schooling in Capitalist America. New York: Basic Books.

Deke, J. & Haimson, J. (2006, September). Expanding beyond academics: Who benefits and how? Princeton NJ: Issue briefs #2, Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. Retrieved May 20, 2009 from:http://www.eric.ed.gov:80/ERICDocs/data/ericdocs2sql/content_storage_01/0000019b/80/28/09/9f.pdfMatematicapolicy research Inc.

Lleras, C. (2008). Do skills and behaviors in high school matter? The contribution of noncognitive factors in explaining differences in educational attainment and earnings. Social Science Research, 37, 888–902.

Jencks, C., Bartlett, S., Corcoran, M., Crouse, J., Eaglesfield, D., Jackson, G., McCelland, K., Mueser, P., Olneck, M., Schwartz, J., Ward, S., and Williams, J. (1979). Who Gets Ahead?: The Determinants of Economic Success in America. New York: Basic Books.

Author William Doyle and Superintendent Michael Hynes—both known for supporting whole-child education—-say that they would welcome Bill Gates to New York if he agrees to meet three conditions.

They suggest that Gates has a chance to redeem his reputation after 20 years of failure in education.

They write:

The Gates Foundation has been a driving force behind nearly 20 years of consistently failed federal and state attempts at education reform, including the widely reviled “Common Core” state standards. In that time, little-to-no system improvement has occurred, despite the squandering of vast sums of money by the Gates Foundation and by taxpayers. In a blog post noting the flaws of Common Core and announcing plans to re-focus their funding, Gates announced, “As we have reflected on our work and spoken with educators over the last few years, we have identified a few key insights that will shape our work and investments going forward.”

The Gates Foundation now has a historic chance to redeem and distinguish itself as a world leader in education as it has in the field of public health. In fact, we believe that the educators, parents and children of New York should welcome the Gates Foundation to New York with open arms and marching brass bands — but with three ironclad conditions.

Open their post to learn what their “ironclad conditions” are.

Do you think Gates might agree?

Do you think New York needs him, with or without the conditions?

Pasi Sahlberg and William Doyle celebrate the importance of play in their new book, Let the Children Play: How More Play Will Save Our Schools and Help Children Thrive , published by Oxford University Press.

This article, excerpted from their book, features the work of Superintendent Michael Hynes and the Patchogue-Medford school district on Long Island in New York. The article appears in Kappan online.

In 2015, a school district in New York State declared an educational revolution. Teachers and parents decided to rise up and liberate their schools and their children — by giving them more play.

The revolution erupted at the Patchogue-Medford district on Long Island, which serves 8,700 K-12 students, over half of whom are economically disadvantaged, and it is being led by Michael Hynes, the athletic, passionate young district superintendent. He realized that federal education schemes based on the compulsory mass standardized testing of children, schemes like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, were proven failures, and he figured it was time to try something new, even radical.

Hynes started following his students around through their typical day and was increasingly alarmed to realize how little recess, play, and self-directed time they got. “We have done a great job of stripping away childhood from our children,” he thought. “We tell kids what to do from the moment they wake up in the morning until they go to bed. They don’t have the ability to take time for themselves, just be kids, to make decisions for themselves.” He remembered his own childhood, and how different things were when he started as an elementary school teacher in the 1990s. “My students were free to play often,” Hynes recalled. “I loved watching them benefit physically, emotionally, and socially. We would go outside three times a day.” A single idea began to dominate his thinking: “Kids must be free to play in school. Childhood itself is at stake. I am sworn to protect children, and I must give this to them.”

Making time for play

For years, Hynes had read about the striking successes of Finland’s school system, and its strong foundation of play in childhood education. It gave him an inspiring idea, and he presented it to his community. And with the strong support of his school board and local parents, Hynes and his team took a series of steps almost unheard of in American public education today, steps that for some politicians and bureaucrats would be shocking, even downright dangerous, and nothing less than pure blasphemy. They doubled daily recess from 20 minutes to 40 minutes and encouraged children to go outside even in the rain and snow. They brought building blocks, Lincoln Logs, toys, and kitchen sets back into the classrooms. They gave each child a 40-minute lunch. They added optional periods of yoga and mindfulness training for K-8 children. They launched an unstructured Play Club for kindergarten through 5th-grade children, every Friday morning from 8:00 a.m. to 9:15 a.m.

They opened “Divergent Thinking Rooms” filled with big foam blocks, where children can negotiate, plan, innovate, collaborate, and construct new worlds of design and architecture together, free from adult interference. A free breakfast program in classrooms was started so children and teachers could eat together every morning. The amount of homework was sharply reduced. Hynes calls the program “PEAS”: Physical growth, Emotional growth, Academic growth, and Social growth. It has nothing to do with technology. During the play periods, there isn’t a tablet, laptop, or desktop in use.

In 2018, Hynes sent a letter to his district, informing teachers and students that they were more than a score on a government-imposed standardized test, and they should feel free to toss such test scores in the trash. “We must abandon one-size-fits-all lesson plans and stop drilling to create high scores on year-end standardized tests,” he argued. “Instead, children should be involved in play, project-based learning, cooperation, collaboration, and open-ended inquiry.”

Hynes is an educational revolutionary. He stands firmly against the status quo of high-stakes testing and hyper-pressure. It takes courage to think afresh.

Imagine if we had state leaders with this vision?

Every Wednesday at 7:40 pm EST, the Network for Public Education has hosted a conversation about education. All the conversations are archived here.

In the first one, I discussed my new book SLAYING GOLIATH with Carol Burris.

In the second one, I talked to Pastor Charles Foster Johnson of Pastors for Texas Children about their fight against vouchers and for public schools.

In the third one, I asked Mercedes Schneider about her new book and her skill at investigative reporting.

In the fourth one, I discussed the effects of the pandemic on early childhood education with ECE experts Denisha Jones and Susan Ochshorn.

Michael Hynes is the superintendent of schools in the Port Washington school district on Long Island in New York. He is one of the most creative, innovative, and unconventional thinkers in education today. His new book was just published, offering advice to school leaders and, frankly, to everyone, about what is most important in life.

Mike Hynes is my candidate for the next State Commissioner of Education in New York. He has fresh ideas, deep experience, and values the well-being of children more than test scores.

In this brief essay, he outlines what schools should do after the pandemic.

He writes:

Now is the time for our school leaders to generate a new compelling philosophy of education and an innovative architecture for a just and humane school system. We must refocus our energy on a foundation built on a sense of purpose, forging relationships and maximizing the potential and talents of all children. Let’s take advantage of the possibility that our nation’s attention can shift 180 degrees, from obsessing over test scores and accountability to an entirely different paradigm of physical, mental, and emotional well-being for students and staff.

It is our collective responsibility to foster engaging and meaningful environments when educating our children in the new era of a post pandemic education. As the great philosopher John Dewey stated over one hundred years ago, “If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.” The first sentence in the 2018 World Bank Group’s Flagship Report- Learning: To Realize Education’s Promise states, “Schooling is not the same as learning.” I couldn’t agree more. The report continues to speak about that as a society, we must learn to realize education’s promise.

Now is this the time to revolutionize this antiquated system built on old structures and ideologies. I recommend we change the purpose of schooling to the following core values:

· Emphasize well-being. Make child and teacher well-being a top priority in all schools, as engines of learning and system efficiency.

· Upgrade testing and other assessments. Stop the standardized testing of children in grades 3-8, and “opt-up” to higher-quality assessments by classroom teachers. Eliminate the ranking and sorting of children based on standardized testing. Train students in self-assessment, and require only one comprehensive testing period to graduate from high school.

· Invest resources fairly. Fund schools equitably on the basis of need. Provide small class sizes.

· Boost learning through physical activity. Give children multiple outdoor free-play recess breaks throughout the school day to boost their well-being and performance. We observed schools in Finland that give children four 15-minute free-play breaks a day.

· Change the focus. Create an emotional atmosphere and physical environment of warmth, comfort and safety so that children are happy and eager to come to school. Teach not just basic skills, but also arts, crafts, music, civics, ethics, home economics and life skills.

· Make homework efficient. Reduce the homework load in elementary and middle schools to no more than 30 minutes per night, and make it responsibility-based rather than stress-based.

· Trust educators and children. Give them professional respect, creative freedom and autonomy, including the ability to experiment, take manageable risks and fail in the pursuit of success.

· Improve, expand and destigmatize vocational and technical education. Encourage more students to attend schools in which they can acquire valuable career/trade skills.

In short, if we learn anything at all from this pandemic, we should clearly recognize that we need our teachers more than ever before. It’s imperative that schools focus on a balanced approach to education, one that embraces physical, emotional, cognitive and social growth. We have an enormous amount of work to do, but our children deserve nothing less.

If you agree, please send his essay to every school board member you know and to anyone else who is interested in finding a new way to educate our children, one that develops their well-being and joy in learning, instead of subjecting them to an endless and useless series of standardized tests.

A few months ago, William Doyle and Pasi Sahlberg published their book about the importance of play, called Let the Children Play: How More Play Will Save Our Schools and Help Children Thrive.

Checker Finn Jr. criticized their book in the conservative journal Education Next, maintaining that middle-class and affluent kids need to play, but poor kids need to keep their noses to the academic grindstone.

Doyle and Sahlberg respond to Finn in Education Next in this article.

They write in answer:

Chester E. Finn Jr.’s review in the Winter 2020 Education Next of our book Let the Children Play reveals a startling lack of knowledge of medical guidelines for children in school, including children in poverty.

Finn contends that our policy message, the need for more intellectual and physical play in school, “portends damage to children and society at least as severe as the practices the authors rightly deplore.” The reason, Finn asserts without evidence, is that playful teaching and learning “does little harm to middle-class kids,” but “for children from troubled circumstances it’s a recipe for failure.”

In fact, the exact opposite is true, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, representing the nation’s 67,000 children’s doctors, which declares in its 2012 clinical report on play and children in poverty that “the lifelong success of children is based on their ability to be creative and to apply the lessons learned from playing.”

In the report, the AAP says that “play should be an integral component of school engagement,” and “for children who are underresourced to reach their highest potential, it is essential that parents, educators, and pediatricians recognize the importance of lifelong benefits that children gain from play.” The doctors added: “It could be argued that active play is so central to child development that it should be included in the very definition of childhood. Play offers more than cherished memories of growing up, it allows children to develop creativity and imagination while developing physical, cognitive, and emotional strengths…”

Play is the learning language of children, and a critical foundation of life success. Teachers and pediatricians know that in school it can take many forms, including recess, free play and guided learning through play, playful teaching and learning and experimentation without fear of failure, and creative physical and intellectual expression through the arts and high-quality physical education. All children need it in regular doses, including and especially children in troubled circumstances.

An argument against play in school for any group of children is a reckless violation of the clinical position of America’s pediatricians and an insult to our teachers and students, and should be dismissed as such.

Game, set, match to Doyle and Sahlberg!

Nancy Bailey has grown disgusted with the talk of “reinventing” and “reimagining” the school when the talk is coming from the same people who have wrecked the schools with their uninformed and harmful ideas for the past 20 years.

If there is going to be any “reinvention,” it should be done by parents and teachers at their own schools, she says.

Those who have failed us in the past should not be allowed to take control yet again, she says.

She writes:

Teachers and parents on the frontlines of this pandemic should be given control of how their schools are reimagined in the future. When this crisis ends, they should be given the voice on how to bring back democratic public schools and make them their own. Any revolution surrounding schools is theirs.

Those who foisted unproven and draconian school reform on America’s public schools in the past, now attack those reforms like they’re the fault of teachers and school systems. If public schools are broken it’s largely due to what these so-called reformers did to schools. They’re criticizing the mess they created!

Who…

insisted on high-stakes standardized tests?
pushed a no-play, no-recess curriculum on our youngest learners?
denied children with disabilities the services they need?
wrote and insisted on Common Core State Standards?
insisted on one-size-fits-all goals and instruction?
drove parents to distrust teachers?
ignored the mental health needs of children in our schools?
destroyed student privacy, especially online privacy protections?
reduced or removed the number of school nurses, counselors, and support staff in schools?
fired the librarians and closed libraries?
removed the arts from poor public schools?
set up EMO charter schools that drain funds from true public schools?
gave vouchers to schools unaccountable to the public?
praised and funded alternate teachers with fast-track training?
insisted on large class sizes?
said teachers don’t need to improve their knowledge with advanced degrees?
insisted teachers need to be evaluated by tests, using test scores of students they never taught!
opened the door to administrators who never studied or worked with children?
Trying to justify replacing schools with charter schools and online instruction will make for a nice profit.

Since their reforms failed, they and their ideas should be put out to pasture.

Bailey goes on to cite numerous examples of self-appointed “leaders” offering advice about what other people should do.

These are the people she wants to “put out to pasture.”

Read it.

Lenore Skenazy wrote this article in the Washington Post. Her advice to helicopter parents: Give up! Relax! Let the children play and figure things out. It is a welcome antidote to the policy wonks who are predicting that American children need constant academic pressure, more testing, more worksheets, held back a grade, or face a life of failure.

Skenazy is an advocate of “Free-Range Parenting.”

She writes:

The idea that parents have to enrich every second of their kids’ lives was a crazy lie even before the coronavirus. Kids never needed all that parental stimulation and all those teachable moments.

You know how Einstein spent much of his time as a kid? He made houses of cards.
Just imagine young Albert, the little loser, balancing cards and learning absolutely nothing. Except … well … patience … and concentration … and physics.


The point being not that you should run out and get your offspring a deck of cards so they can win the Nobel Prize before school starts up again. (Don’t run out for anything!) The point being that kids have always been bored, and they’ve always come up with things that seem like a total waste of time to adults — I’m looking at you, slime! — but maybe aren’t.


Many are the parents right now who are worried their kids are turning into “Call of Duty” fanatics. Okay, perhaps I am worried one of my sons is turning into a “Call of Duty” fanatic now that his college classes have switched to pass/fail.

But is that terrible? Nothing is interesting to kids — or any of us — if it’s not at least a little challenging. So even if a kid is working on his “kill/death ratio” (sigh), he is learning focus, frustration tolerance and how to make alliances. Those are transferable skills — not wasted hours. Video games are absorbing because they turn kids on, not off.



Coronavirus has parents and families self-quarantining with their children. So don’t worry about those.
Don’t worry, either, if a child seems to be slacking off in the homework department. Think back on how much you loved summer vacation. Wasn’t it a huge relief to finally not worry about grades and tests?


Before covid-19, childhood anxiety levels were going through the roof. In a 2018 Pew Research Center survey, 70 percent of teens said anxiety and depression were “major problems among their peers.”
Now children have, basically, a long, strange, twisted vacation. Yes, for many, school is continuing, but it’s not taking the same number of hours, and all their after-school activities are off, too. This opens up a vast swath of free time that many children and teens have never had before. It can turn into a period of growth — mentally and emotionally.


Though not every youngster will become an Einstein while quarantining, many seem to be turning into the kids they would have been if they’d grown up a generation or two earlier, with more time to discover their real interests and hobbies (remember those days?), before childhood got so structured and busy.




So, don’t worry that everyone else’s children are making fabulous “Les Misérables” parodies while yours is hitting his brother with the webcam. You can shower your child with construction paper and glue sticks, but if she hates arts and crafts, she probably won’t emerge from quarantine an artistic genius. (Just like I stocked up on lentils. Why? I am not suddenly a vegan. I should have stocked up on chicken thighs.)


What I mean is: It’s all okay. Our kids are not going to seed even if they are sleeping, gaming and bingeing on YouTube. In fact, they’re growing, simply because kids are always growing and learning from everything — houses of cards, Nerf guns, Barbies, baths, videos, but most of all from that vital resource more rare and precious than toilet paper: free time.
My advice for would-be coronavirus helicopters? Think of the quarantine as an AP class in chilling. You can help your kids ace it by stepping back.

The standards and testing cabal wants to preserve the status quo ante and double down on accountability and NCLB-style measures after the pandemic. The choice crowd wants to push their agendas subsidizing anything and everything while slashing public schools.

William Doyle and Pasi Sahlberg have a different vision. They want learning to be creative and joyful. They describe their ideas on Valerie Strauss’s “Answer Sheet” blog:

William Doyle and Pasi Sahlberg, public school fathers in New York City and Sydney, respectively, are co-authors of “Let the Children Play: How More Play Will Save our Schools and Help Children Thrive.”

The coronavirus crisis has shattered one of the most dysfunctional pillars of childhood education. On March 20, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos suspended the federal requirement for the mass standardized testing of children, announcing “Neither students nor teachers need to be focused on high-stakes tests during this difficult time.” Other countries, including England and Australia, are doing the same. These decisions should be made permanent, and the job of assessing learning should be returned to classroom teachers, not politicians and for-profit testing companies.

More than 1.5 billion young people around the world have been affected by school closures due to the covid-19 pandemic. Our own young children are among them. Like countless other parents, we now have to home-school, remotely work, and keep our families safe in an atmosphere of uncertainty about the future.

Some day, hopefully in the not-too distant future, our schools will open their doors again. When they do, we should give our children a much better education system. To do this, we should build our schools upon a foundation of what the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) calls “the ideal educational and developmental milieu for children”: play, in all of its forms.

The evidence is clear. A wide range of research indicates that intellectual and physical play confers a host of cognitive, social, emotional and health benefits. Play is the learning language of children, and pediatricians know it has the power to supercharge more conventional, and equally necessary, forms of academic instruction.

Over the last 20 years, politicians in the United States and elsewhere and have tried to improve public schools with policies based on the high-pressure standardized testing of children. Instead of improving learning, these policies have demoralized teachers and students, pushed out the arts, recess and learning through play, and wasted billions of dollars for marginal gains, by doing little to relieve the inequities, segregation and student disengagement that plague many of our schools.

In the United States, for example, recess in public schools is widely restricted, and even denied as a punishment for wiggling in class or late homework — despite the scientific evidence that physical activity improves behavior and academic performance. Before the school shutdowns, millions of American children were already spending their days in cruel, unnatural conditions of forced physical restraint in our public schools. According to one report, 30 percent of American kindergartners have no recess anymore, due to academic pressure on 4-, 5- and 6 -year-olds.

Now, well over a billion children will be almost totally cooped up indoors at home, perhaps for months to come.
“We have to assume that the incidence of PTSD and anxiety disorders as a function of what we are as a society going through, for both parents and children, is going to be huge,” pediatrician Michael Yogman told us. “ … We need to think about how are we going to help children recover from the trauma of this experience.”

According to Yogman, principal author of the American Academy of Pediatrics 2018 landmark report “The Power of Play,” a worst-case scenario would be for schools to say, “We missed four months of academic subjects and tests, so we’re going to compress it all into a month and catch up.” He considers this kind of thinking a terrible idea, since “it would just accentuate the stress children are already experiencing and undermine their capacity for productive learning.”

Representing the nation’s 67,000 children’s doctors, the American Academy of Pediatrics has declared that “the importance of playful learning for children cannot be overemphasized.” In fact, the doctors assert, “It could be argued that active play is so central to child development that it should be included in the very definition of childhood. Play offers more than cherished memories of growing up, it allows children to develop creativity and imagination while developing physical, cognitive and emotional strengths.”

In direct opposition to the prevailing wisdom of some American self-styled “education reformers” who have slashed recess and play in inner-city schools, the AAP has noted that for children in poverty, “play should be an integral component of school engagement.” According to the pediatricians, “the lifelong success of children is based on their ability to be creative and to apply the lessons learned from playing.”

Play is urgently relevant to the new education world that will emerge from the coronavirus pandemic. “Play can mitigate stress,” Dr. Yogman tells us. “The executive function skills that kids develop through play can promote resilience, and play can restore safe and nurturing relationships with parents, teachers and other children, which also promotes resilience. That’s got to be our goal when kids get back to school. At every level, in our schools, homes, and communities, our social structures have to acknowledge the magnitude of stress all families, especially those with young children will experience, and design programs that mitigate that, including lots of physical activity and play.”

In these times of uncertainty, pain and fear, play can be a big part of the cure. During this crisis, parents should resist the temptation to overstress their children with excessive, often screen-based “remote at-home learning” in an attempt to “not fall behind.” In this bizarre, tragic chapter in world history, children need parental attention and love, comfort, safety, nondigital play, healthy routines, songs, books, blocks, basic art supplies, and, whenever possible, physical activity, much more than they need academic pressure, graded assignments and excessive screen time. We recently asked our own children, age 8 and 12, what they think their own weekday study schedule at home should look like during the crisis. They sketched out time for learning, practice and rest, and also blocked out slots of time through the day for recess, play and physical activity breaks — just as pediatricians recommend. We should listen carefully to both children and their doctors, who together represent qualified experts on childhood.

In this health emergency, government leaders around the world are urgently seeking the advice of medical and scientific experts. They should do the same when it comes to education. When the covid-19 pandemic passes and the world opens up again, we should redesign our schools using the best expert evidence, just as we are doing in response to the global health pandemic. We should give our children schools that follow doctor’s orders, by giving them lots of physical activity and play to energize learning and boost health and happiness.
The mission of childhood education can no longer be the generation of standardized test data, but learning powered by the physical, mental and emotional health and well being of every child and every teacher.
Schools should be the favorite place of every child. It’s time we made them so.