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Coxon: It's Okay to Make Education Fun Again | Other Opinions

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Steve Coxon

Now in the history of formal education, school-aged children around the world can claim that they need a boost in social development, emotional well-being, and academic achievement. , especially when done playfully, is fun and effective. This is both the role and benefit of structured summer camps that focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

After two years of declining learning rates due to school closures and poor implementation of virtual education during the pandemic, students around the world are far behind where they were in 2019, especially in math. , severe in urban and suburban areas of St. Louis.

But many of the same teaching methods that have increasingly erred in drill-and-kill skill worksheets in the 20 years since No Child Left Behind can be ineffective. After a spike in elementary math scores shortly after the implementation of No Child Left Behind, scores remained virtually flat during his 20 years. More worksheets are simply not working.

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At the same time, students and teachers alike are experiencing higher levels of mental health problems than ever before. Although clearly exacerbated by the pandemic, these have grown for more than 20 years with an emphasis on test scores rather than proper child development. Changes in state policy to protect children from an overly focused academic rigor in early and primary education that leaves children (and their teachers) anxious, often depressed, and disinterested in learning. is desperately needed. This won’t change overnight, but summer will provide some respite.

In the summer, parents and other caregivers can offer what research and history clearly show. Children need to have fun learning later, and this can be achieved through open-ended and structured play.

Unfortunately, too many parents and caregivers allow this time to be filled with screens. The American Academy of Pediatrics now reports that children in the United States spend an average of seven hours of entertainment screen time per day. This equates to about 4.5 years of childhood. This negatively affects their mental health and behavior, physical health, reading and language development, and creativity. Studies have shown that your brain is less active when you’re looking at a screen than when you’re asleep. The Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting a child’s entertainment screen time to less than 2 hours per day to allow for free and structured play.

Free play is simply time to be a kid. imagining, biking, using playgrounds, reading and drawing, building and creating, climbing trees and walking streams, and socializing with other children. . Healthy development of children requires sufficient free play, supporting both future learning and good mental health. In free play, children develop creativity and imagination, decision-making, social and emotional skills.

Structured play is the middle ground between free play and modern education. Structured play is purposeful play, often with input from adults. Building Lego cars to roll down ramps faster, creating new board games, and using craft materials to create imaginary animals that have learned to avoid predators are all An example of structured play. Parents and guardians should devote time to structured play with their children.

If the program utilizes structured play, quality summer camps can be very beneficial partners for parents in this endeavor. Facilitate and accomplish freewheeling tasks that require creativity and critical thinking. Her STEM learning-focused summer program through structured play and free-form problem-solving can reinforce and teach math concepts.

Structured play activities that support math learning include children’s literature such as building and programming robotics (negative numbers, decimals, degrees) and creating gingerbread man traps (counting, measuring). It involves prototyping an invention to solve a problem you see, creating a stop motion animation video (geometry). , time).

The St. Louis area is blessed with many different summer camps and programs, many of which offer scholarships.

Whether at home, in summer programs, or at school, children greatly benefit from structured play, both in terms of learning and mental health. It can be built and strengthened. Play is childhood work. Parents should give their children the opportunity to do this important work.

Steve Coxon Professor of Education at the University of Maryville and Executive Director of the Center for Access and Achievement.