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New York Times: Recess and the Culture of Childhood

Recess is no longer child’s play. Schools around the country, concerned about bullying and arguments over the use of the equipment, are increasingly hiring “recess coaches” to oversee students’ free time. Playworks, a nonprofit training company that has placed coaches at 170 schools from Boston to Los Angeles, is now expanding thanks to an $18 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Critics have suggested that such coaching is yet another example of the over-scheduling and over-programming of our children. And, as someone whose scholarly work has consistently reinforced the idea that young people need unstructured imagination time, I’d probably have been opposed to recess coaches in the past. But childhood has changed so radically in recent years that I think the trend makes sense, at least at some schools and with some students.

Children today are growing up in a world vastly different from the one their parents knew. As the writer Richard Louv has persuasively chronicled, our young people are more aware of threats to the global environment than they are of the natural world in their own backyards.

A Nielsen study last year found that children aged 6 to 11 spent more than 28 hours a week using computers, cellphones, televisions and other electronic devices. A University of Michigan study found that from 1979 to 1999, children on the whole lost 12 hours of free time a week, including eight hours of unstructured play and outdoor activities. One can only assume that the…
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