Do you remember being a kid and going out for recess? It was one of the best times of the day, and it served to get you up and around, exploring your physical abilities and making time with friends. But that ‘hey get off the couch’ mentality has faded from mainstream awareness as kids become more chained to their desks than ever have before.
Children are experiencing more time in stationary inactive positions than previously, and it’s having a profound effect on their capabilities, emotional states, and performance (1). Kids need to explore their senses to develop properly, and they are getting less and less time to do so.
Focus on academics
The New York Times reported in 2015 that over a four-year period the number of students in New York City public schools being referred for occupational therapy jumped by thirty percent. A possible explanation is the increased emphasis on academics in early childhood education, which has resulted in a lessening of physical activity (1).
Kids are still allowed to play at school, but the things they are allowed to do have been restricted in a way that keeps them more inert than before. Some schools have restricted physical education and recess, which is making it harder for kids to move as much as they should. A lot of the restrictions that children have placed on their movements is aimed at keeping them safe, but a lot of these same activities are what helps children develop healthy psychological and physical growth (1).
Allowed to do so little
Some children have commented on how they are allowed to do so little with what they’re given due to fear that harm will occur that they are left with little else. One boy, ten years old, noted that they aren’t allowed to go upside down on the monkey bars, the adults fear they will hurt themselves, but he thinks he’s old enough to try. Another girl, eight years old, said that they aren’t even allowed to go in the woods on their school’s property for fear that they are too dangerous (1).
Occupational therapy for children
Teachers have begun reporting increased aggressiveness, decreased ability to regulate emotions, anger and frustration, constant tripping, frequent falling, and decreased ability to attend in the classroom. But the thing is, to treat these behaviors occupational therapists often resort to prescribing movements that are not allowed in schools. For instance, occupational therapists encourage that children go upside down, jump off objects, and climb. It gives them a better sense of body awareness (1).
The vestibular sense
These types of movements shift the fluid around in the inner ear and help develop a strong vestibular sense (balance). This system supports body awareness, attention, and emotional regulation, which are crucial to learning in the classroom. When our movements are restricted, our vestibular sense weakens over time. It’s the same reason some adults who used to like rides such as roller coasters as kids now report nausea during the same activities. We’re just not moving like how we did when we were kids. As we age, our level of activity changes and we become more prone to falls (1).
Little people, big problems
The problem is that we are already reporting these findings in children. They are spending less time outdoors being active and it’s having a profound effect on the development of their muscles and senses. Further, children don’t have a choice if they are going to take a break to exercise and make movements important to their development (1).
3 hours a day
Children spend a lot of time sitting in desks doing classwork and when they get a chance to move around their activities are being restricted. In the aim of safety, children are allowed less and less to stimulate themselves and develop their senses. It’s plain to see why they might be fidgeting like crazy, having emotional problems, and slumping over in their desks.
It’s been determined that children need at least three hours a day of active free play a day to maintain good health. With this new focus on academics and stationary activities, they are only getting a fraction of this time. Children need real authentic time to play and develop their vestibular sense and to explore their capabilities, and they need adults to support them in this (1).
(1) The Washington Post. Lets face it, keeping children sedentary for most of their waking hours is causing harm https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2016/11/11/lets-face-it-keeping-children-sedentary-for-most-of-their-waking-hours-is-causing-harm/?utm_term=.9cca9f89bf41 Published: November 11, 2016. Accessed: December 22, 2016.
(2) Youtube. Children with a sedentary lifestyle prone to pain conditions https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7P52SSbfNQ4 Published: June 14, 2016 Accessed: December 22, 2016.
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