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Monday, August 22, 2011

With 'play time' waning, DC SCORES provides opportunities for imaginative thinking

Believe it or not, we have arrived, already, at the first day of the 2011-12 school year in the District. This also means, of course, that another year of DC SCORES programming, our 18th!, is just around the corner.

And with that, the vital opportunity for students to become engaged in a classroom and express themselves through poetry; the chance to be physically active several times a week; and, most importantly, the gift for 850 students of a team and a sense of community with their peers.

Not to take anything away from the average school day, but now, more than ever, it doesn’t provide enough self-expression opportunities and physical activity for students. A USA Today article over the weekend highlighted — or “lowlighted” — the fact that kids, simply, don’t “play” as much as they used to, whether it’s during the school day or after school.

Play is a funny concept, because we don’t generally think of it in terms of its benefits. Maybe more than that, a “play date” with a friend is something to occupy a kid (and give parents some free time).

But as the article states, and often quotes Rutgers anthropology professor Cindy Dell Clark, “Playing allows children to act out a new way of thinking about the real world.”

When playing games, kids use their imaginations, create new games, learn to solve problems and hone their decision-making skills. You remember your play days, right? How many variations of hide and seek and capture the flag did you think of?

You were being constructive, and imaginative, and having a lot of fun while doing it.

Well, play time is being attacked.

According to the article, “Since the 1970s, kids have lost an average nine hours of free playtime a week. Kids are getting less free time outside. And when kids are given recreational activities, they are likely to be adult-led and adult-supervised.”

Even recess, which we all remember as that escape during the school day to “play” on the jungle gym, to “play” football with friends, has been trimmed down to almost nothing and, yes, structured to the point that it’s hardly free time anymore.

Which brings me back to DC SCORES.

Our programming, while guided and structured  by adults to provide a safe space and basic lessons, allows kids much independence.

When they’re on the soccer field, they’re free — within the confines of their position. They’re just playing, just running around often using their imaginations and play-making ability. There’s a reason it’s called The Beautiful Game, right?

And when students begin writing and performing poetry this fall, they’ll be at liberty to let their imaginations run wild, to write down whatever their minds dictate, in whatever language.

DC SCORES isn’t a play date, that’s for sure. But many of the positives mentioned in the article that are associated with playing — exploring ideas and trying things out in a safe way; building relationships on the playground (or soccer field) — can be found daily throughout the District in the after-school hours.

Clark put the value of play time best like this:

“In a society … where everyone is an agent that operates for themselves, play is important. It helps kids navigate what they’re experiencing socially and make sense of it for themselves.”

We couldn’t agree more.

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