Go back

How after-school play could improve learning

Posted by TP Toys on 4th November 2014

How after-school play could improve learning

School-aged children seem to be getting homework much earlier in their academic careers these days than was once the case, and the general advice is that it's better to encourage them to start it as soon as they can.

This, of course, eliminates the last-minute panic of having to do an evening's worth of work the morning it's due in, something many parents will remember from their own schooldays. Across the country, this diligence results in youngsters getting home after 3.30pm and immediately picking up pens and pencils to complete whatever tasks they have been assigned that day. 

However, recent research has suggested that instead of having a battle of wills with your children and practically shoe-horning them into a chair to learn their spellings, you might be better off letting them play - at least for a little while.

Research from America

The study was carried out at the University of Illinois and involved 221 pre-pubescent children over nine months. They were divided into two groups, with one performing moderate to vigorous physical activity for at least 60 minutes a day after school (the FITKids initiative) and the other group not doing anything physical.

Lead author of the report Charles Hillman said the FITKids demonstrated around a six per cent improvement in fitness levels, as might have been expected. However, they also showed substantial increases in their ability to block out distractions and focus, as well as improvements in cognitive flexibility - the ability to switch between intellectual tasks while maintaining speed and accuracy.

In contrast, the control group only displayed improvements in fitness of less than one per cent (in line with normal maturation over the study period) and recorded barely any cognitive benefits.

Even better, the more classes the FITKids attended, the greater the improvement in brain function and cognitive performance. Mr Hillman suggested the benefits could be attributed to the social interactions, stimulation and engagement the children were experiencing as much as the physical exercise.

Just common sense?

When you really think about it, the research is just a demonstration of common sense in action. It's unsurprising that kids will need some time to let off steam after hours of sitting in a classroom - after all, it's a long time between afternoon play and the bell going for the end of the day.

We also know that even older students and adults can only learn and take in new material for a certain length of time, so making much younger children sit straight back down and hit the books is unlikely to be beneficial in the long run.

So, we'd recommend taking that well-meaning advice of not putting homework off with a pinch of salt and encouraging 30 to 60 minutes of play after school if you want your child to be bright and eager to learn.

Now that the clocks have gone back and it's harder to squeeze in time on climbing frames and swings, you can still engage kids with physical exercise - why not start up a game of hide and seek or get your little ones hula-hooping? You could also mix this up with quieter games such as colouring or drawing so little ones get that downtime but are ready to wind down when necessary. 

They should finish each session relaxed, feeling better for having socialised with you and each other, and enjoying the benefits noted in the US study - and you could eliminate the after-school homework battle for good!