Play time is learning time – big time!

By Katyana Cook, Parent

Kids at PLay 1

Researchers are now telling us that our kids learn more on the playground than they do in the classroom. “The function of play is to build pro-social brains, social brains that know how to interact with others in positive ways,” researcher Jaak Panksepp says. “And in people”, he says, “an added bonus is that the skills associated with play ultimately lead to better grades”.

According to the NPR article Panksepp was quoted in, researchers in one study found that the best predictor of academic performance in eighth grade was a child’s social skills in third grade.(1)

After my experience as a playground monitor last week, I can see where Panksepp is coming from. I donned my fluorescent orange vest, the bell rang and the kids poured onto the playground in a clamorous mob; a torrent of excitement, emotions, physicality, imagination, gameplay, social entwinement and sometimes exclusion. And all of it packed into 20 minutes! I stood my ground, knees wobbling a little. By the end of my 1 hour shift I felt quite unequipped, despondent even. How do I help these kids I barely know – those who are struggling to resolve issues peacefully – those who are feeling left out and friendless? So when I heard about BCE’s recent ‘stretch target’ to provide each school with an additional lunchtime supervision it felt like a good thing, a really good thing. BCE is hoping to provide funding for 2016-17 that will provide our kids with an additional resource(s) trained in Social and Emotional Learning and who can arm our kids with the tools for conflict resolution in the playground. Someone who provides continuity. Someone who knows the challenges each student faces in this social setting, helps to identify and work to resolve bullying and steer children away from aggressive problem- resolution tactics, and someone who is recognized as a source of help day in and day out.

Today, as we know, there is a dependence on parent volunteers to supervise all our playgrounds at lunchtime. As a PTA Room Parent I know it’s a struggle sometimes to fill these roles. Burlingame demographics seem to be changing: with both parents working more and less available during school hours. And parents who are available usually prefer to spend time volunteering in the classroom. So it would be reassuring to know that there is an ongoing, professionally trained presence on the playground.

As BCE donors we can make this a reality. Additional BCE donations this year could facilitate highly-trained lunchtime supervisors and make those nagging Yard Duty emails a thing of the past. Orange does not have to be the new black! But we can’t do it without you – please donate to BCE’s 2016-17 fund here (and spread the word).

(1) “Scientists Say Child’s Play Helps Build a Better Brain”, NPR Ed (, August 6, 2014.

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