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School: lighthouse or intellectual sweatshop?

As the formal school year begins in many areas of our world, ACEI colleagues are more determined than ever to promote the well-being of children and youth in our homes, schools, and communities. The membership has resolved to take the lead in actively seeking the involvement of parents and the larger community in a joint effort to emphasize the critical importance of healthy lifestyles for children and youth. We plan to encourage children to be playful and physically active, to promote physical environments that advance play, and to take the lead in articulating the critical and essential need for healthier children and youth, worldwide.

Surely we accept that children and youth want to be healthy, active participants in their communities, and they want interesting places where they can play and interact with others. For many children and youth, school is the ideal center for such activity. Are schools in our communities interesting and attractive intellectual lighthouses that offer a beacon to places where children are free to learn in the company of friends? What are some of the ways children and youth can be active and playful in our school communities? When asked what they like best about school, many children unsurprisingly identify recess. Why?

Consider Jessica's comment about recess at school: "Sometimes I just want to sit on the bench." What picture forms in your mind's eye when you read that comment? Does your picture change when you are told that Jessica is not a "bench warmer" or a "couch potato," but rather a very active 6-year-old girl who participates in many individual and cooperative team sports and activities out-of-school? She is a child who truly enjoys playing outdoors any time. Why would an active young child like to sit on a bench during school recess? When I asked her to tell me why she likes to sit on the bench, Jess elaborated that sometimes she likes to talk with her friends about games they can play or after-school activities they look forward to, and "sometimes we just talk silly and giggle!" Many children are not permitted to chat in school, and so sitting on a bench can be an important element of an active life. In many schools today, spontaneous play such as that shared by Jessica is disappearing! Recess is disappearing! Children are not being given opportunities to play, and they certainly cannot sit on a bench to talk with each other and giggle. School administrators and teachers say that the demands of high-stakes testing prohibit playful activity at school. Assessment and evaluation look at academic performance, but do the laws related to school attendance and academic achievement ban recess? Not in my community; how about yours?

What options and opportunities are available for active life in your community? Explore and assess whether safe playgrounds are accessible to children and youth living in your community. Also explore natural areas of your communities. Are walking and biking paths safe and available for use by children and youth? Are parents teaching children how to be playful with respect to the well-being of the land, air, and water, as well as other people in their active community? How safe are the streets in your community? Do children and youth feel safe as they walk to the community library to meet friends?

A survey of children in all schools in Scotland found that 26.5 percent of the respondents ask for things to do, 25.3 percent want an end to bullying, and 24 percent want safer streets. Look around your community and look into the wider world community ... questions about safe streets are perhaps among the biggest we can ask. Should any child have to face the danger of war-torn streets?

How can we, as purposeful individuals and likeminded colleagues in ACEI, promote the well-being of children and youth in their homes, schools, and communities? Do we want schools that are lighthouses for active learning or intellectual sweatshops devoid of the safety and joy of play? How can each one of us activate change? Make no mistake, some people like sweatshops more than we can imagine; consequently, our plan to encourage children to be playful and physically active, to promote physical environments that advance play, and to take the lead in articulating the critical and essential need for healthier children and youth can be daunting, but surely will be worthwhile.

With each message I write for the Exchange, I ask that you E-mail your suggestions and comments to me, and I want you to know that I appreciate your insightful communications. ACEI colleagues are again stepping forward in support of our mission. Thank you.

Fall messages that welcome us to school include reminders for me to renew my comprehensive membership in ACEI. I'd like for you to follow me in renewing your membership, too; plus, could you please encourage at least one friend to join ACEI? We really need more people to join with us as we work hard to advocate for children and support recognition, respect, and empowerment for the professional childhood educator.

Hope and Love for Peace,

Jeanie Burnett, ACEI President


Bergen, D. (2000). ACEI speaks: Play's role in brain development. Olney, MD: Association for Childhood Education International. Available at

Clements, R. (2006, May). Childhood obesity: The value of physical play. Presentation at The Value of Play: A Forum on Risk Recreation and Children's Health, Washington, DC. (Clements used the term "intellectual sweatshops.")

Frost, J., Brown, P., Sutterby, J. & Thornton, C. (2004). The developmental benefits of playgrounds: Research from leading experts on playgrounds and child development. Olney, MD: Association for Childhood Education International.

"Youngsters have their say in poll. Scotland's children's commissioner has praised young people following a poll asking what would improve their lives." (2006, January 18). BBC NEWS. Available at
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Title Annotation:Association for Childhood Education International; playing at school declining
Author:Burnett, Jeanie
Publication:Childhood Education
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2006
Previous Article:Scripted curriculum: is it a prescription for success?
Next Article:Educators left behind.

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