Incorporating play time into our children’s education could be the difference needed to close the education gaps.
Back in February, this article appeared in the New York Times, profiling Dr. Ronald Ferguson. Dr. Ferguson has become a hero in closing the achievement gap in our nation’s schools. His statistical analysis of thousand of students has helped shed considerable light on where the achievement gap exists and why. He consistently turns up data that shows that black students, regardless of economic standing, under perform compared to their white counterparts.
So what does this all have to do with play? The popularity of Dr. Ferguson’s work is yet another indicator of our obsession with numbers and data driven education. Certainly this information can help to enlighten us as to where the gaps are most prevalent and why they exist, but the answers as to how to fix this problem are still lacking. While Dr. Ferguson’s data may certainly be accurate and his suggestions may be excellent in order to improve grades and test score amongst black students, what we are still failing to look at is the marriage that must take place between play and academics and how this can help all of our students both in the classroom and in life.
What I would like to suggest is that we merge the data that Dr. Ferguson has collected with the data shared by the Office of Minority Health on the state of health among the black population in America. According to the Office of Minority Health, a member of the black community is twice as likely to be diagnosed with diabetes than a non-Hispanic white individual. A black man is 30% more likely to die from heart disease than a non-Hispanic white man. Black women are more likely to be obese and black men and black women are more likely to have high blood pressure than non-Hispanic whites. These are staggering facts. When we pile up Dr. Ferguson’s statistics next to the health statistics I see a serious need for more play. Play is one of the key factors in helping children over come academic failure, social emotional struggles, bullying, and the plague of an unhealthy lifestyle. However, play is the most overlooked tool for getting this done.
We need to return to a more common sense approach to education. Children need some adult-led education. They need some child-led education and play. They need safe places to explore and healthy food to eat. They need a nourishing environment in which they can dream and imagine about their future.
All the numbers in the world can ever replace what we know to be true of every child, no matter race, ethnicity or economic standing. Children need to play, and they learn while they do so. They need positive support from adults who believe that play is an essential part of a well-balanced education.
Our students are currently educated in a oppressive atmosphere of statistics and test scores. When we allow children time to play we free them from the burdensome relationship that has developed between student, teacher and administrator. Children who are underachieving are most at risk for stagnating in this relationship and not finding their own independent achievement. If the school atmosphere is polluted by idyllic, adult ideas about the importance of teacher-led education and unattainable academic goals, then the student is left with no outlet in which they can exercise their personal freedom to achieve. Whether it be on the basketball court or jumping rope or gardening or hop scotch, all such activities help children build valuable self esteem that benefits them throughout life.
Play time is a time when children can embrace and explore their differences and learn respect for how all people learn and live uniquely. It is also a time when a variety of achievements can be acknowledged other than academic achievement.We must learn to accommodate and teach the cultural differences that exist between students of different ethnic and racial backgrounds. Our current model doesn’t make such accommodations, and the bottom line is that parents from different cultures will never raise their children exactly the same way. How are we going to work to accommodate these differences in our model of academic achievement?
Play can nurture family relationships and friendships, building a healthy community. Play can help us solve our obesity problem. Play can help us close the achievement gap. It is the combination of all these things that helps build a well balanced, successful, fully functioning member of society, and isn’t that what education should be about?
Originally published at letchildrenplay.com