Frequent Free Play = Better Focus

We could learn a thing or two from Finland.

finlandplaypicAn article in The Atlantic explains the Finnish practice of giving school kids a 15-minute break after each 45-minute lesson.  The author, Tim Walker, is an American teacher working at a school in Finland and discusses his initial resistance to the idea of such frequent breaks.

“I didn’t see the point of these frequent pit stops…  The Finnish way seemed soft and I was convinced that kids learned better with longer stretches of instructional time,” writes Walker.

Accustomed to the American method of long instructional periods followed by long(ish) recess periods, Walker was certain that the kids would prefer a longer break and would stay focused better if they weren’t running out to recess all the time.

But he was wrong.  After just a few days of this new schedule, his Finnish students were at their breaking points, and Walker decided to give the Finnish way a try.

“Throughout the school year, my Finnish students would—without fail—enter the classroom with a bounce in their steps after a 15-minute break,” he writes.  “And most importantly, they were more focused during lessons.”

We recently wrote about humans’ short attention span and need for breaks to recharge.  It seems that Finland has figured this out.  And so has much of the rest of the world.  Walker notes that most primary schools in East Asia have a similar schedule.

Walker points to the work of Anthony Pellegrini, emeritus professor of educational psychology at the University of Minnesota and author of Recess: Its Role in Education and Development, for academic research on the topic of recess and free play.  Pellegrini and his team’s experiments in the U.S. showed that students were more attentive after breaks and that shorter periods of instruction were more beneficial.  He also found that children did not need to go outside in order to benefit from a break period, but they did need to have true undirected free play.

In other words, they needed time to recharge, to do things their own way for a little while, to relax and stop worrying about the work at hand.  Teachers, homeschoolers, and parents can learn a lot from incorporating more of this practice into their kids’ lives.  Adults and anyone supervising employees can also learn from this.  Breaks for free play are a needed part of the human capacity to learn and function!