Recess is serious business, and neglected during pandemic, researcher says

In our zeal to help children catch up with school after learning remotely during parts of the pandemic, and to minimize the spread of COVID-19 in schools, a leading researcher says we may be overlooking the most important subject of all – recreation.

“There is a very strong narrative that kids have fallen behind educationally, and we need them to catch up,” said Lauren McNamara, a researcher at the Diversity Institute at Ryerson University, who studies the role of recreation in the development and well-being of the child.

But schools must also give children the opportunity to “reconnect and heal,” McNamara told Piya Chattopadhyay, host of Sunday Magazine. “And a lot of kids do it by playing and playing outside.”

She said that playtime fills a basic need for children to connect and, therefore, helps them learn better.

Lauren McNamara, a researcher at Ryerson University’s Diversity Institute who studies the role of recreation in child development and well-being, said research shows that social connections, fresh air and physical activity that accompanies playtime is essential for learning. (Haskell photography)

But logging in during a COVID-era recreation is much more difficult. Although practices vary between provinces, and even regions, depending on public health guidelines, children in many schools must stick to cohorts during recess – groups that may not include their friends, a. she declared.

To limit contact, McNamara said some school principals staggered recess times and even reduced recess to accommodate cohorts, “so children can potentially have less recess.”

“I also don’t hear any toys, no balls. I think there is a fear [around] be able to keep it clean and sterilize it, ”said McNamara, PhD in educational psychology and founder of a Canada-wide research and advocacy initiative called The Recess Project .

For Blake Hennelly, a grade 5 student from Toronto, the cohorts made recess less enjoyable.

“So not being in the same cohort as some of my close friends makes me a little sad, because I watch them play together and it makes me a little sad.”

She said recess is “about the same importance” as classwork.

“You have to, for example, exercise outside, so you’re not in the classroom all pissed off, careless,” she said. “If you can get out, run around and then you can get in and be more focused.”

Research confirms this, according to McNamara.

Classroom and recreation programs that engaged children outside have helped Knowlton Academy overcome some of the behavioral issues resulting from pandemic restrictions that often prevent children from spending time with their good friends. (Submitted by Knowlton Academy)

“Healthy learners are better learners”

“There has been so much research in the last 20, 25 years on belonging, social connections, play and fresh air, being outdoors, physical activity. All of these things that happen during this space are the foundation for learning. They are the foundation of well-being, ”she said.

“And you have to have good well-being to be a great learner. Healthy learners are better learners.”

Dr. Ayisha Kurji, a pediatrician in Saskatoon, agrees.

“I think playtime is just as important a part of school and education as what you learn in the classroom, especially for young children, where a lot of your growth, a lot of your development are physical skills, ”said Kurji, who is also an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Saskatchewan.

Dr. Ayisha Kurji, a pediatrician from Saskatoon and assistant professor at the University of Saskatchewan, says the physical and social elements of playtime make it just as important to a child’s development as the work done in the classroom. (Submitted by Ayisha Kurji)

“This is also a very important part of your social development. This is where a lot of … that we might face later on.”

Unfortunately, for some students, the cohort may mean not being able to escape someone who bullies them, said McNamara, who was severely bullied because she was deaf after losing her hearing as a result of ‘a head injury suffered in an ice rink on his sixth birthday.

Although she and her colleagues were unable to enter schools during the pandemic to study this phenomenon, she said there can be a “frightening” level of victimization occurring on school grounds. if recess is not well managed.

Outdoor activities such as tobogganing at Knowlton Academy in the Eastern Townships of Quebec helped make recreation fun, despite cohort restrictions. (Submitted by Knowlton Academy)

“The children are fed up with each other”

When students returned to class in September 2020 at Quebec schools such as Knowlton Academy, of which Renalee Gore is the principal, it didn’t take long for being stuck in class bubbles at recess. presents challenges.

“Frankly, the kids were fed up with each other, and very quickly,” said Gore, whose small public school in the village of Knowlton is in the Eastern Townships of the province, about 100 kilometers away. from Montreal. “And as the year went on, it got steadily worse.”

Even children who normally didn’t have behavioral problems in school were mean to each other, she said.

But they responded by scaling up the school’s existing nature programs and outdoor activities, which Gore says is much easier thanks to the school’s location next to a hill and a forest.

A group of family and community members cleaned up the hill and built six toboggan runs, and a parents’ committee purchased 130 sleds. The city donated a set of snowshoes.

Sledding made recess fun, as did time spent in the school grounds both during recess and in class during the warmer months.

“Everything that was on the outside seemed to really help,” Gore said.

“Plus we did yoga with the kids, we danced with the kids, we did all kinds of things that you know would reduce their anxiety and brighten their minds and make them more focused on learning when they were in class. ”

She notes that Quebec schools have an advantage because they receive direct funding from the Department of Education – in addition to funds allocated by the board for school operations – to cover things like an outdoor education program. called “nature nerding”.

It also pays for a staff member to oversee “safe recreation” in supervised environments for children struggling with anxiety, behavioral issues or bullying.

Paul Cairns, a father-of-two from Toronto who works in track and field as a tennis pro, said he was concerned the public health restrictions on recess were too severe, hampering healthy active play and bonding social. (Submitted by Paul Cairns)

Parents like Paul Cairns say they fear COVID restrictions in their children’s schools are going too far, leaving children with not enough exercise or positive interaction with their peers.

Her children are in grades 4 and 7 at two different schools in Toronto. At his senior’s school, for example, “they’re not allowed to participate in games like soccer, football or tag,” said Cairns, who works in track and field as a tennis pro, and discussed the matter with the manager.

“So the reason they donate is that they have to maintain their cohorts, and there is limited space available for each cohort to occupy. And while it is not safe for some children to engage in physical activity in this space while other children are not, there is some risk that they will potentially be hit by bullets. “

But Cairns said public health and all major sports organizations in Canada have determined that it is safe for children to engage in outdoor physical activity that involves stepping into another child’s space for a short time.

“So that’s what’s confusing and frustrating for my kids because they play outdoor sports, but they can’t do it in school.”

In an email to CBC Radio, the Toronto District School Board said it was following the advice of Toronto Public Health to limit the mixing of cohorts, to the extent possible, due to the ongoing pandemic and the fact that many elementary school students are not yet eligible for COVID-19 vaccines.

“While we recognize the importance of social and physical activity, we are taking a cautious approach to reduce the possible spread of COVID-19 and the subsequent dismissal of students, classes and, in rare cases, schools,” indicates the press release.

“In the meantime, we are reintroducing extracurricular activities in a progressive and responsible manner.”

McNamara said the pandemic set back the work researchers like her were doing to advance the cause of a well-managed and inclusive recess that’s as good for a child who excels at basketball as it is for a child who prefers a moment of calm at a craft table.

“However, the silver lining of the pandemic really underscores, I think, with so many people, especially parents of young children, how important play is, how important friendships are and all that matters to that. , that spark they have. “

Written by Brandie Weikle. Produced by Peter Mitton.

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