It has occurred to me that we could dramatically improve school climate at almost any school by ensuring easy access to a beach. Simple. The cool, salty air and the inviting sound of crashing waves would be enough to calm teachers and students. In addition, a quick swim or surfing session would surely reduce student cortisol levels and release some brain boosting endorphins. This incredible idea was sparked by thirty minutes of boogie boarding at Pacific Beach in San Diego, California. Another benefit of play — improved cognitive skills and creativity. In other words, it generates ideas.
While it is unlikely that Willis Junior High School will be getting an ocean anytime soon the idea of allowing our students more opportunities for organized play has been on my mind lately. Play and relaxation are critical contributors to social-emotional health for both students and adults. That would explain why I am on vacation right now — attending to my emotional health.
Studies have shown that many students — especially those who have experienced Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) — suffer from chronic stress. Chronic stress results in an increase in blood cortisol levels and high cortisol levels impair brain function. Over time, this can even have a negative impact on brain development. Exercise, physical activity, and mindfulness have all been shown to reduce stress and therefore cortisol levels. That is obviously a good thing.
Unfortunately, as kids get older, we dramatically reduce the amount of time they have to play, relax, unwind, and be mindful at school. I would argue that our kids are suffering because of this lack of play time and that providing more opportunities for organized “play” would — at least up to a certain point — result in students who are less stressed, more focused, and demonstrate better problem solving skills and creativity.
As I was standing in the surf this afternoon, I was reminded of a quote by the founder of Patagonia, Inc. — Yvon Chouinard.
Work had to be enjoyable on a daily basis.
In his book, Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman, Chouinard talks about the importance of play in the work place and the connection between happy employees and quality work. As the title indicates, he encouraged his employees to take regular surf breaks while working at their Ventura, California headquarters.
One of my goals for the 2018-19 school year is to ensure that we have more organized activities at lunch time. This isn’t as easy as it sounds — it requires a great deal of planning, supervision, and potentially material resources. I am working hard, with the help of several members of our community, to recruit volunteers to spend time with our students at lunch — playing basketball, corn hole, chess, soccer, music, and whatever else might interest a junior high school student. Our students have asked for this (in an end of year survey) and I intend to make sure it happens. I know the play will be beneficial, our volunteers will be a mentoring presence, and I believe it will reduce the number of issues we see during our lunch periods, as well as in the classroom.
So….let my students surf!
Okay…maybe they won’t be able to surf, but at the very least, let my students play!