Stress, Play and 21st Century Skills

While discussing stress with his students, our building's Health Teacher invited me up to discuss students' concerns - at their request.  Students felt strongly enough that they wanted to speak about stress, homework and academic pressure with the principal.  Seventh graders!  I popped up to his classroom, and what I heard was alarming, upsetting, and a bit sad.  Students reported things such as "there is so much pressure, that sometimes I have to decide between playing with friends or doing my homework" and "I'm thinking about dropping out of playing on my sports team, because I don't have time to be on a team and time to finish my schoolwork."

I polled the students, and on average, students have over two hours of homework a night, often not including studying for tests and quizzes.  What does this tell me?  We need to do some work with students around study skills, backwards planning and executive functioning skills.  In her article from the fall of 2012 "Homework: An Unnecessary Evil?," Washington Post author Valerie Strauss cites multiple studies that fail to paint a particularly persuasive case for homework - or at least for avoiding excessive amounts of homework.  

What can we do?  Yes, we can keep the amount of homework moderate; yes, we can provide more support and structure around study skills and staying organized; but ultimately, as a community, are our expectations for students where we want them to be?  Are we permitting our students to be kids, stressing the values that are important, and preparing students to play, to have fun, to be creative, to pursue their passions?  Are they avoiding these things because there doesn't appear to be value - either in their own eyes, that of their parents/guardians or the school?  Our schools need to ensure that
Play is crucial to building 21st century skills.
students have time - to be kids, to play, to find their passions.  

With spring finally upon us, I brought students outside during lunch for 15 minutes.  15 minutes, unstructured, and what I witnessed was amazing.  Students played, they solved problems on their own, created games, and had fun.  And I would imagine, more focused, energized and ready to learn for their afternoon classes.

Regardless of the path or the strategy, students need to be provided with time to be kids, to pursue passions, and have down time - and ultimately, they will build 21st century skills - problem solving, creativity and communication skills - and be more engaged in their learning.

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