The increasing fear of lawsuits is eliminating recess and removing playgrounds from America’s schools, and it’s coming at a cost to our children.
Dr. Olga Jarrett, an associate professor at Georgia State University who prepares teachers to teach in urban high-poverty schools, has done considerable research on play and the need for children to have recess.
According to Dr. Jarrett, children’s play is critical for healthy development — socially, emotionally, physically, and academically.
“I’m concerned that kids aren’t allowed to be kids anymore,” she says. “It’s critical for children to just be able to play and be kids.”
“Many schools don’t have playgrounds at all, they don’t have recess. They’ve been built without playgrounds with the idea that this is not something we do at school,” she says. “Playing is not something that’s safe or that the school wants to be involved in.”
“The social effect in schools is that I don’t think children are learning the skills of taking turns, deciding who’s ‘it,’ organizing their own games. I think in not having recess, children are not engaged as well in the classroom.”
Her research has shown that children are much more fidgety and off-task in the classroom when they don’t have recess, making it an issue of classroom management.
In addition, she believes the increase in childhood obesity is also a direct result of the elimination of play. “As children are less engaged in physical play and being active, they are gaining weight.”
Sadly, it seems quite clear that recess and playgrounds are simply among the latest victims of America’s lawsuit culture. As frivolous lawsuits abound, schools are becoming increasingly wary of anything that might subject them to liability. And it’s the children who suffer for it.
“I think there’s a fear of lawsuits that makes some school systems and cities design playgrounds that are completely uninteresting to kids,” Dr. Jarrett says. “They’ve taken out a lot of the play value because they’re afraid somebody’s going to get hurt. There needs to be a way to make things safe and also interesting for kids.”
“We’re losing a lot in terms of kids’ innovativeness and creativity. Frankly, I’m worried about the next generation. I’m worried about the next generation socially, physically in terms of fitness, and I’m concerned about creativity because I don’t think they’re getting the experiences through play to imagine other situations.”
“Building schools without playgrounds — what are they thinking?”