When my son started showing interest in reading about science, we subscribed to Science News. I remember as a kid I would read pretty much anything that was sitting in front of me, so I read unlikely-but-interesting things like Johnny Got His Gun, I’m Ok You’re Ok and The Sensuous Woman. So I thought it’d be great to just sort of have Science News around the house.

It turns out that kids who grow up with iPads don’t read magazines. I was the only person reading the magazine. When I found a good article I’d tell my son and he’d say, “What’s the website?”

I realized I love the magazine when I noticed the subscription was about to run out, and I couldn’t bear it: I sent more money.

So, I could talk about all the great stuff I’ve found in there, like a sound map of the US. But instead I’m going to tell you about the one that shows which environments most effectively encourage kids to run and play. It turns out scientists have studied this question and, hold onto your hats: kids like grass and jungle gyms, and boys like to run around more than girls.

What surprised me about the findings is how Science News summed it up: School provide kids with the majority of their recreational time, so schools should solve the problem of how to design playgrounds so kids use their recreational time.

My first thought was that you could spin that a different way: schools trap kids inside, so if you want to reduce a child’s sedentary lifestyle you should take the kid out of school.

(It turns out the bias toward keeping kids in schools is in the research as well.)

Why not talk about the amazing playgrounds municipalities are building? Chicago just unveiled a new playground in Millennium Park. The ropes and slides and swings are all surprising and inspiring and my kids played for an hour.

There are plenty of other ways to spend money for playgrounds besides giving the money to schools. And there are plenty of other ways to get kids outside besides locking them up for eight hours a day. We are on a treadmill where we lock kids up, then have no choice but to invest in the lockup, and then when we need kids to be able to think freely instead of thinking of freeing them, we look for ways to sneak in running around while they’re locked up.

17 replies
  1. Commenter
    Commenter says:

    …and then, when we need kids to be able to think freely, instead of thinking of freeing them, we pay corporations to develop step-by-step, heavily footnoted curriculum that purports to teach children to think freely, which will then be delivered according to strict schedule and duly tested.

    The idea that “School provide[s] kids with the majority of their recreational time” was chilling. Is that true?

    • mh
      mh says:

      I’m with you. School provides children with the majority of their recreational time?

      Factor in bus rides (45 min), school day (6+ hours), homework (2 hours?), and what’s left for the kids? Poor babies.

  2. Mark Kenski
    Mark Kenski says:

    If you were forced to pick just one single thing that would make the biggest overall improvement in kids’ lives today, I would think it would have to be exercise. Drastically more exercise.

    It costs nothing, it doesn’t take much parental time or specialized knowledge, there is no raging scientific or political controversy–kids should get as much time as possible outside burning off energy.

    When I was a kid, all my summer and weekend memories are of days where I got up, had a bite to eat and bolted out the door, spending dawn till dusk outside with occasional pit stops at the neighbor-kids’ homes. Or sometimes even my own.

    When my son was a kid, one of the things in life I am most grateful for, is that he and his mom spent a majority of their days doing almost exactly the same thing. Bite to eat, where we going today? As often as not, it was some park to spend hours walking, exploring, getting to know nature a bit. It was good for both of them, and it got my son off to a great start on physical and mental health.

    • mh
      mh says:

      Article today in the New Hampshire UnionLeader by Jennifer L. W. Fink called “How our schools are miserably failing our boys”.

      Ties in with your comment.

  3. Cindy
    Cindy says:

    There is an additional point to be made here. If we want our kids to think freely and creatively, enjoy physical activities, use their bodies joyfully and have that become a natural part of their lives, the parents need to model it. If you want to reduce a kid’s sedentary lifestyle, show them how it’s done.

    I get a little sick of those FB posts people copy and paste about how grand it was when we were kids, we came home when the porch lights came on, we rode our bikes all day, blah, blah, blah….These are often posted by sedentary parents sitting on their couches with their laptops.

    Get up and do something. Create something. Get outside and use your body. Build something. Fix something. Use your head to solve problems. Don’t just drive your kid to soccer practice and sit on the sides, go for a run, ski with your kid, be the living example of what you would love for them.

  4. jessica
    jessica says:

    For the first two years of schooling in england the children have to spend half of the day outside. The schools have a whole outdoor setup for this.

    Older classes get an hour to split lunch then play on a grassy field (usually football). The kids can go outside whenever they finish lunch.

  5. Jennifa
    Jennifa says:

    I always thought simply having more sidewalks would hugely benefit kids. Where I live kids that live a block from school are bussed because there is no safe way for a human not enclosed in 2,000 lbs of steel to get from point a to b.

    The play ground pictures reminded me of my elementary days, our playground equipment had yellow caution tape wrapped all around it. We weren’t allowed to use it cause it was considered too dangerous. And this was the 70’s, so some stuff hasn’t changed!

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      I have to admit a huge part of living in the city- besides the quick commute, meaning more dad time- is to let my children be human and walk everywhere. I, personally, think it’s so beneficial and efficient. Sure it can take a while to get from A to B with two kids, but that’s my problem, not theirs ;).

      • mh
        mh says:

        I don’t live in that kind of city, but when we recently moved, we specifically chose a house within one block of a 20-mile hike/bike trail. Our homeschool day generally consists of several hours outside, every day.

        Kids eat better, sleep better, feel better and act better when they use their bodies. Same as everyone else.

  6. mh
    mh says:

    Local government schools have morning, lunch, and mid-afternoon recess through second grade.

    Third graders and older get *one* 20-minute recess per day, after lunch. And teachers can cancel recess at their discretion if the class is underperforming or misbehaving.

    This could just possibly be why so many children have trouble sitting still in classrooms.

    Every time I pass a school, with those high fences and meager windows, I want to set the children free. I feel enormous pity for children in compulsory schools.

  7. Jennifa
    Jennifa says:

    ok, so schools are horrible, yada yada yada. This blog has been going for what? a couple of years at least now? I guess the primary goal is to have more homeschoolers, but I don’t have any kids to homeschool.

    I get bored with the school is bad stuff sometimes and wonder when the next phase gets implemented.

    Right now my county is debating school start times, and of course they can’t do it ’cause it costs too much to change the schedules of the busses. So my thought is, ok, eliminate all the busses and have the kids all walk to school together at the same time. That sounds pretty cheap, and if the big kids and little kids all walk at the same time the little ones are chaperoned.

    Oh and then they are getting more exercise so eliminate gym class and just let the kids out earlier.

    It seems simple to me, but school board drags it out forever, doing nothing in the long run except worrying about the adults who’s jobs they may affect.

    And if the schedule this year has problems just change it next year. The whole thing takes an act of congress because there are so many adults that get upset about every little perceived inconvenience. No decisions have anything to do with kids.

    So, you see, as an aunt of a 10th grader and 6th grader, this stuff really ticks me off!!

    • Karelys
      Karelys says:

      Jennifa this is not the first time that you demonstrate how much you love your niece and newphew (i think there are two? ).

      I think you’re so special.

      I know you cant go around parents for this. I constantly wonder what are the few things that make the most difference in children’s lives. If we can figure this out together i think that we can do a lot with it.

      Yesterday i was having coffee with a friend Who was a latchey kid. Close to 40 and i think he’s really figuring out how to have thE life he wants With meaningful relationsHips.

      Right now i think mentors are huge. If you are your niece and newphew’s mentor and encourage certain things according to their development (like exercise, following their interests, figuring out real authority,learning basic questions to determine if something is true or not, etc.)

      I know it’s frustrating. But since you’re not the parent maybe figuring out how to be an excellent mentor to circumvent the issue can have the most impact.

  8. mh
    mh says:

    Much of this confusion you are experiencing with the school bureaucracy will vanish when you realize that school districts exist, not to produce pleasant and employable 18-year-olds, but to provide lifetime employment for untalented and unlikeable adults.

    Makes more sense, huh?

  9. Em
    Em says:

    I recently ordered a few print magazine subscriptions so my child could see me reading something other than my phone. Maybe it is a losing battle.

    Any suggestions? I definitely believe the research about our brains functioning differently reading print than screens.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      Go to a library or a book store and let your child pick out something on his/her own. I have quite an investment in comic books and graphic novels because that is what my daughter likes to read.

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