Four years ago, Lucy Dathan moved to New Canaan, Connecticut, where she enrolled her three children in a public elementary school. They met new classmates. Their teachers were attentive. But something was wrong: recess was limited to a 20-minute break after lunch, about half the time as at their previous school in California.
Ms. Dathan said that a mood shift in her children was palpable. They found it difficult to focus on homework. They were restless and sometimes cranky after school, which she attributed to the accumulated energy. With so little time to play in the schoolyard, she feared losing the ability to manage her personal relationships. "It was difficult for them to adapt to a single interruption," she said in an interview.
Thus, Ms. Dathan, who was elected to the Connecticut legislature in November, agreed to support a bill requiring schools to provide at least 50 minutes of non-directed play per day for kindergarten students. the fifth year. "I never asked one person to ask me, 'Why are you doing this? "" She said about parents, students and teachers who contacted her. "I think recreation stimulates the creativity we need to solve foolish global problems, like global warming, or other problems we face as a planet."
Ms. Dathan is not alone in her observation. In April, Arizona lawmakers passed a law providing for two days of daily suspension for elementary school students in the state. Teachers have already seen encouraging results, reporting fewer disciplinary measures, better test results and improved overall child health. And just last week, young people from Arkansas, where a similar project is also on the study, sent letters to state lawmakers asking them to take advantage of an additional break longer.
The current discussion around recreation reflects a new set of thoughts about creativity and childhood. Neuroscientists and others believe that creative problem solving will be essential for the future, as computers become more powerful and artificial intelligence more commonplace. "Creativity in children involves the ability to create ideas and generate ideas on their own," said Sandra Russ, a professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.
This includes group play, narration and building blocks and other toys that stimulate, not inhibit, wonder and curiosity. Robert Bilder is a clinical neuropsychologist and director of the Tennenbaum Center for Creativity Biology in Los Angeles, which studies creativity and the brain. "What is precious for children is freedom, where they solve problems without a predictable response," he said. "When it's open, they hold the curiosity to learn more things. And that will be essential for their future. "
Dr. Bilder directed the "Big C Project" at the University of California at Los Angeles, where researchers studied the brains of accomplished artists, scientists, and others to understand the workings of creative genius. "They showed a more random functional connectivity structure," he said. "We do not know what promotes it. But he is established at an early age. "
We can assume that very creative people explore relationships that are lacking to others. Children with an open problem are more likely to explore a variety of relationships and patterns, unlike a toy with predefined instructions or uses. "The" thing "should not dictate the activity," said Dr. Bilder about toys. "The person dictates the activity."
Take, for example, a strong cardboard made from an old box of appliances. Cardboard boxes were once so ubiquitous in toys that in 2005 they were named to the National Toy Hall of Fame. Parents can now buy a prefabricated cardboard kit from Amazon. Or their kids can simulate building a fort in an online game.
"It is unfortunate that children no longer play with cardboard cartons as before," said Mark Runco, A researcher who studies creativity at Southern Oregon University and is the founding editor of the Creativity Research Journal. "Our whole world is changing now. There are people who think you can have a digital or remote reading hour. You experience it in different ways. "
Of course, there are trade-offs to replace an outdoor playground with a digital playground. "There is good and bad," he said. "We now have a community all over the world. But there is a loss of face-to-face interactions. "
Mr. Runco, like Mr. Bilder, warned that more free time at school did not guarantee that children would become more creative thinkers. The important thing is to know how they use the time they have. And family life and community also play a role. "People are intrinsically creative," said Dr. Runco. "But they need the environment. Creativity is most important when people make choices. S & # 39; dress. Choose alternative routes to work or school. Too often people associate creative thinking with painting, writing or drawing. "
For Ms. Dathan, however, letting Connecticut children spend 50 minutes on the playground every day is a good place to start. "It will be interesting to hear what people will say at our upcoming public hearings," she said. "Creativity is stifled. You must give children the opportunity to learn social skills. It's good for happiness in general. And recreation builds relationships. "