KOMPAN Playgrounds

New Minds in the Making: Motivating kids to commit to academic performance and personal health.

Edmonton School BarsSchools are changing these days, trying new approaches to motivate more kids to learn and to play a key role in creating healthier students. On a deeper level, you could say, it is about motivating kids to care about school, to feel connected, and to be willing to commit with personal responsibility in the academic learning, as well as their personal health.

Often it involves letting go of old ways of teaching and trying new things to capture the attention and interest of the digital generation. In this environment of engaging kids with schools, the outdoor environment, can serve as a great place for students to reframe learning and be physically active in play, and as an opportunity to develop more in-depth social relationships with peers. However, the indoor learning scenario can also pick up some clues from the playground, when delving into more pedagogically engaging approaches to teaching. Observing kids playing on the playground is the best learning lab for understanding kids’ motivation to learn new skills.

Health and Education
Until now, the federal No Child Left Behind law has stimulated most schools to increase time spent on reading and math, and 44 percent of school districts have achieved this by cutting time spent on “noncore” subjects, such as the arts, PE, and recess.(1)  However this approach does not seem to hold the solution for engaging kids with school and is likely a contributing factor to health problems, such as childhood obesity.(2)  The Let’s Move Campaign, as well as the recent White House Task Force report, “Solving the Problem of Childhood Obesity within a Generation,” point to the vital role of schools as settings to influence healthy behavior. (3,4)  More and more evidence is accumulating that demonstrates the link between student physical activity breaks and academic performance. Increasing the number of safe, quality playgrounds in schools is an engaging way of increasing children’s physical activity.(5)  Youngsters from all species including humans have a biological drive to be active.  After some time in class kids get restless, they cannot sit still and start to squirm, tilt their chairs and their attention wanders. They use their imagination to figure out ways to get out of the chair or talk to their friends, all activities resulting in not paying attention to the topic being addressed in class.

Making It Cool To Move
Environments shape behaviors. Free play on the playground is tremendously exhilarating for kids, releasing pent up energy and getting them recharged for more learning. A varied play environment offers stimulating imaginative and self-determined forms of movement: climbing, jumping, sliding, using strength, climbing up or down or sideways, hanging by arms or knees, jumping, landing, turning, stretching, and the list continues depending on the mood of the child. The key factor is to create a wealth of opportunities for self-directed play in the company of peers. Expressing yourself in challenging movements involves feelings of confidence and persistence and builds self esteem.  This connection to emotional well-being makes the learning of both physical and social skills stick. These types of experiences prepare the brain and children’s mindset for learning and the ability to concentrate in the classroom. Playgrounds can change kids’ behavior. They can make kids choose to be active and involved with their bodies, minds and emotions!

1. Center for Education Policy. Choices, changes, and challenges: curriculum and instruction in
the NCLB era. Washington, DC: Center for Education Policy; 2007.
2. “We Do Not Have to Sacrifice Children’s Health to Achieve Academic Goals”. James Sallis,
PhD, Department of Psychology, San Diego State University, California and Active Living
Research. The Journal of Pediatrics Vol. 156, No.5. May, 2010.
3. Let’s Move Campaign, let’smove@hhs.gov
4. White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity Report to the President. “Solving the Problem
of Childhood Obesity Within a Generation”, May 2010.
5. Burlingame, Helle: “Exercising their Right to Play” in Park and Recreation magazine,
December, 2007.

New_Minds_in_the_Making Article – Reprinted with the permission of Landscape Communications, Inc. from the July 2010 issue of Landscape Architect & Specifier News

Helle Burlingame

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