School as a Social Primer for Future Success in Life

What if kids learn more during recess than in the classroom?

It’s a disruptive notion but a case may be made that social/emotional learning during this predominantly unstructured time has significant developmental benefits. It’s no accident that preschool is emphasized at such an early age to encourage interpersonal growth. Leaving the “safety” of a home environment in which the primary social interactions typically involve mom, dad, sister and/or brother, is hugely instructive for a child’s eventual acclimation into the larger human community.

“There’s increasing evidence that children gain a lot from going to preschool,” says Parents advisor Kathleen McCartney, PhD, dean of Harvard Graduate School of Education, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “At preschool, they become exposed to numbers, letters, and shapes. And, more important, they learn how to socialize — get along with other children, share, contribute to circle time.”

Schools (whether they be preschool, kindergarten or K-12) function not just as conduits to convey knowledge via essential subjects, such as math, history and language arts, they act as ongoing incubators for societal readiness. The more that children are exposed to a plurality of diverse individuals, from classmates, teachers, and educational staff, the better prepared they will be to navigate the complex social minutia of adult life. It is for precisely this reason that recess can be just as valuable as classroom time. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, kids with regular recess behave better, are physically healthier and exhibit stronger social and emotional development.

It’s no wonder, therefore, that innovative schools, such as Eagle Mountain Elementary, in Texas, are experimenting with multiple recesses. Eagle Mountain is modeled after the Finnish School system which consistently scores at or near the top in international education rankings. The core idea behind the frequent recess approach is use this special time to focus on character development through empathy-building and sustained social interaction.

Based on the success of the Finnish educational model and its American adherents, it’s worth pursuing more social/emotional learning initiatives, even if they don’t feature a whopping four recesses per day. It’s been well documented that school drop-out rates are directly correlative to crime and dysfunctional behavior later in life. The better kids learn to relate to their peers, the more comfortable they will feel in school, allowing for greater achievement. We owe it to our children to use precious school hours towards facilitating interpersonal skills. After all, educators are preparing our young for much more than an eventual job someday. They are preparing them to thrive.

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