An article in yesterday's New York Times states the results of a study done with 11,000 eight- and nine- year olds:
"...play and down time may be as important to a child’s academic experience as reading, science and math, and that regular recess, fitness or nature time can influence behavior, [and] concentration..."
I think that teachers of young children know this first hand. We may not have graphs and collected data and numbers, but we know. If our schedule puts too many sedentary things in a row, we will not be doing well by the third or fourth activity. The children need to move. (I also don't think I'm crazy for saying that I also need to move.)
You can find the study from the journal Pediatrics here.
Two things came to mind for me when reading this. First, we do not use the word "recess" in my classroom -- we always call it outdoor play. Wikipedia defines recess as "a general term for a period of time in which a group of people is temporarily dismissed from its duties." In preschool, this is all but true. The physical and social "duties" that the children have when playing outdoors are crucial to their well being and development, and are at the core of our curriculum.
Second, the article was titled "School Recess and Group Classroom Behavior". I know that I am lucky to have a flexible curriculum without rigorous testing or Teachers' Manuals or worksheets. I'm thankful for that everyday. I oftentimes teach using the children's physical energy and excitement as a route for learning. Not only is this a good way to engage children in an activity, you are also giving children who learn through doing a new way to get and retain information. I think teachers would also see "better behavior" (whatever that means) by using active lessons on top of that outdoor playtime.
For example, we were learning about weaving for our sewing projects a few weeks ago, and the concept of over/under/over/under is not easy for everyone, especially when you get to the next line of paper and it is supposed to be under/over/under/over. Phew! So I made up a game to play before we wove: we went over and under everything we could in the classroom. Tables, chairs, my desk, the light table...we did it all. And for some of the children, this helped them understand those words in a concrete way. It also catered to the high-energy level that the children had at that time.
There are always times that things do not seem to be going the way I plan -- bringing up new topics during a story, everyone needing to go to the bathroom when we sit down for meeting -- and I need to remember to go with the flow.
How do you create an active learning environment?