Originally published in Let Grow by Lenore Skenazy, November 2019
When boys get less time to run around, they do worse on reading and math. That’s the conclusion of a study done in Finland — …
When boys get less time to run around, they do worse on reading and math.
That’s the conclusion of a study done in Finland — FINLAND! Land of way more free time and free play than here. As Bill Murphy Jr. explains in this article in Inc. (which is about two years old but we just got the Inc. link, as it were) the researchers studied 153 boys and girls to see how much time they spent sitting vs. running around. The less time the boys had to play, the fewer gains they made in reading and math:
The results didn’t apply to girls. I know that sounds sexist; the researchers offered a few possible explanations. Maybe there simply are physiological differences—or maybe the girls were just as eager to move around as the boys, but they were better able to set aside that disappointment and concentrate.
And for that reason, other researchers say, girls are rewarded more than boys in the classroom.
“Girl behavior is the gold standard in schools,” says psychologist Michael Thompson. “Boys are treated like defective girls.”
Talk about a simple word problem: “Austin has three hours of free play each day. Cyrus has 15 minutes. Which boy is more likely to ace his SATs and get a full ride to MIT?”
Okay. It might not be quite that simple. And a small study is a small study. Finland is not America. But it’s nice to be able to remind everyone from parents to school administrators: Time spent moving and having fun is not time taken away from learning.
And yet, Murphy quotes the fabulous Angela “Balanced and Barefoot” Hanscom’s interviews with kids, to illustrate what life is like on the fun-free frontlines:
“We have monkey bars, but we aren’t allowed to go upside down on them. They think we are going to hurt ourselves. I think I’m old enough to try going upside down.”
“We have woods, but can’t go anywhere near them. It’s too dangerous.”
“When it snows, we can’t touch it with our foot, or we have to stand by the teacher for the rest of recess.”
Taking away a child’s chance to explore, have fun, experience the world and even touch it seem obviously detrimental, just like prison is detrimental to freedom. Stories and studies like these may start changing some minds.
Meantime, this long weekend, let the intensive SAT prep begin: Send your kids out with some friends, cousins, pets or junk. Or all of the above. Unleash their inner (even Huckleberry) Finn! – L.S.