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Strange weather, but not unusual; let the children play

June 6, 2009
By Joe Hackett

It was another interesting week of weather across the North Country. It began on Sunday afternoon, as falling temperatures and dark clouds rolled in over the mountains.

Delivered by driving winds, the first few snowflakes didn't appear to be threatening. However, in just a few minutes, a driving snowstorm mottled the green grass in a white slush.

An accompanying hail storm completed the late spring barrage, as air temperatures plummeted into the 30's. Patchy storms continued throughout the afternoon, as stunned motorcyclists worried about their long return ride to Lake George.

A snowstorm on the last day of May is not so unusual in the Adirondacks, but the stark change from blue skies and bright sun to dark, cold and blowing snow was abrupt.

As climate change accelerates, experts have warned that the likelihood of extreme weather will become more common. Proof again that, "It's not nice to mess with Mother Nature."

B. Von Alten sums it up quite nicely in his quote, "Environmentalists are the warning lights on the dashboard of civilization." Maybe we should be paying more attention to the lights.

Recess was my

favorite class

Throughout a long academic career, recess was my favorite class. I was more interested in the matters at hand than the math, science and history lessons offered in the classroom.

In our small school, recess was almost always conducted outside the confine of four walls. It was freedom in the fresh air and a chance to run around and achieve dirty knees and grass-stained pants. I was really quite good at it!

After a short break from the monotony of classroom lectures, the recess reprieve offered relief and recovery. And once I finally caught my breath after all the running around, the usually boring subjects were a bit easier to swallow.

Now, I find recent research that indicates the best way to improve a child's performance in the classroom may be to remove them from it.

A recent study suggests that play and down time appear to be as important to a child's academic achievement as reading, science and math.

The research indicates that regular recess, fitness or nature time can influence behavior, concentration and even grades.

Published recently in the journal Pediatrics, the study considered the links between recess and classroom behavior among about 11,000 school children ages 8 and 9. Results indicated that children who had more than 15 minutes of recess a day exhibited better behavior in class than those who had little or no recess time.

Lead researcher, Dr. Romina M. Barros, a pediatrician and an assistant clinical professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, explained that the findings were important because many schools do not view recess as essential to education.

"Sometimes you need data published for people at the educational level to start believing it has an impact," explained Dr. Barros, "We should understand that kids need that break because the brain needs that break."

The Pediatrics study revealed that many children are not getting that break. On average, researchers discovered that 30 percent of the school children had little or no daily recess opportunities.

Another report conducted by a children's advocacy group, found that 40 percent of schools surveyed had cut back at least one daily recess period.

The report also revealed that teachers commonly punish children by revoking recess privileges.

Dr. Barros described such actions as illogical. "Recess should be part of the curriculum," she said. "You don't punish a kid by having them miss math class, so kids shouldn't be punished by not getting recess."

Harvard researchers back up such claims. A report by researchers in The Journal of School Health indicates that the more physical fitness tests children passed, the better they achieved on academic tests. The study, conducted with over 1,800 middle school students, suggests that children can benefit academically from physical activity during gym class or recess.

The Harvard study confirms earlier research that found exposure to nature enhances a child's ability to focus. British educators have long recognized the importance of providing children with regular breaks outdoors.

They found that children function at a higher level after exposure to the outdoors. After a short break outdoors, children exhibit greater creativity and possess more cognitive skills.

Researchers believe that the reason may be that the brain utilizes two distinct forms of attention.

"Directed" attention allows us to concentrate on topics such as work, reading and tests, while "involuntary" attention takes over when we're distracted by things like running water, blaring sirens, or a stunning sunset.

Directed attention is a limited resource. Concentrating for long periods can leave us drained. Yet natural settings, which appear to activate involuntary attention, give the brain's directed attention time to rest.

Directed attention requires our concentration, while involuntary attention, also known as fascination, grabs us. It is relaxing and does not result in attentional fatigue.

Researchers have established a growing body of evidence indicating that nature is particularly effective in restoring our attention spans and reducing attention fatigue.

Of course, those of us who are regularly fascinated by nature, already knew this fact. We studied it during recess.

Cheap thrills

According to research by the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, the sports and activities expected to experience the most significant growth in coming years fall into into two categories, fitness and family/social.

The guiding theme in such stressful economic times, research suggests, was for families to find exercise and recreation without spending too much money. People are getting back to basics.

Family social activities with the most significant growth potential include Ultimate Frisbee, backpacking and surfing.

Outdoor sports expected to draw the most participants continue to be, in 2007 figures, freshwater fishing (40.3 million), bicycling (38.1 million), camping (33.7 million) and day hiking (32.5 million).

Such predictions bode well for the summer tourist season in the Adirondacks.



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