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It’s no secret that kids love playtime. Even adults love playtime. And most people find high value in recreation because of its proven benefits on the body and mind. So why, then, does physical activity take a third-row seat in American education?

“The Joyful, Illiterate Kindergarteners of Finland,” an article by Timothy D. Walker published in The Atlantic, gives a look into the Finnish education system and how it encourages the combination of physical activity and learning.

In the article, a teacher from Arkansas expresses her grievances over the American trend versus the Finnish trend. She essentially argues that the American approach to education lacks openness to receiving playtime as a valuable asset of the school day, and I agree.

Even when I was in grade school, standardized testing was made to be such a big deal. Months would be dedicated to preparing for tests that haven’t quite made a lasting impact on my life. It was tedious to prepare for those tests, and I definitely didn’t take away any valuable lessons from them.

The educational experiences from school that did make lasting impacts on me were mostly all taken in beyond a testing page. In fact, a lot of them came through interactive class lessons and the athletics I participated in.

Even past childhood, people like being engaged and active in learning. Lectures get old quick, but keeping busy and enjoying oneself doesn’t. People do business over golf and tennis and whatever else because it’s fun, stimulating, and a break from monotony. And if adults crave breaks from monotony, imagine growing children.

That’s why the Finns got it right: more activity and less cramming is a recipe any at-peace individual would subscribe to—and it happens to work. The Atlantic article also cites data that proves Finnish teenagers perform better on tests than American students as a result of their early development.

Perhaps it’s unrealistic to expect the American education system to undergo a drastic reform anytime soon, but perhaps a change can start at home.

Rather than buy into the notion that a standardized test is going to shape a child’s future, encourage them to keep up with schoolwork but not go crazy over it. To supplement that, encourage more play and exposure to other kids. This can lead to a better understanding of other people and how to relate to them from a younger age, which would be an incredible advantage for any young child to have.

The “proper” balance of academics and sport is a hard one to achieve, but it definitely deserves attention and careful thought. Kids are very impressionable, and their childhoods shouldn’t be eaten up with filling in bubbles on a page all day. Hopefully the system gets reformed, but letting them go outside as much as possible is a good start in the meantime.


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