Preserve Time For Unstructured Play in Schools

Target: John B. King, Jr., Secretary of Education

Goal: Protect recess and free unstructured play time in American schools.

Time for free play is vital to the development of children and adolescents, yet schools are moving toward diminishing or even eliminating free time in favor of more structure and exams. In the last two decades, kids have lost more than 12 hours of free time per week, and administration is only pushing for further cuts to recess, extension of the school day and the school year, and starting common core exams as early as age 7.

Teenage mental and emotional health issues have been skyrocketing in the U.S., and research professor at Boston College, Peter Gray, Ph.D says this is not due to over-diagnosis. According to Gray, children and adolescents are naturally disposed to spend their time playing. It is vital for their psychological development. Unstructured play without adult-imposed rules allows the developing mind to learn to problem-solve, create rules, self-govern, and deal with social conflict. Play that is chosen freely and for its own sake encourages self-esteem and independence; eliminating that in favor of solely adult-directed activities only encourages the pursuit of external validation. In the last 20 years, while young people’s time that is not dictated by adults has diminished, teenagers have become 80 percent less likely to claim that they feel a sense of control over their lives. This leads to feelings of helplessness — feelings which often foster increased anxiety and depression. The well-being of our youth should be prioritized over test scores. Sign below to prevent the loss of unstructured time for play in schools.


Dear Secretary King,

The decrease in time for recess and unstructured free time in schools corresponds with an increase in mental and emotional illness in teenagers, such as anxiety and depression. Despite this, administration across the country is still pushing for lengthier school days and school years, cutting down or even eliminating recess, and beginning common core exams as young as age 7. It is vital that unstructured play be prioritized in schools, and that we put the importance of the well-being of our youth before test scores.

According to Peter Gray, Ph.D, a research professor at Boston College, free play is vital for healthy psychological development in children and teens. They are naturally disposed to spend most of their time playing, and play without a structure dictated by adults allows the developing mind to problem solve, self-govern, and be independent, encouraging self-esteem. In the past two decades, children have lost as much as 12 hours per week of free time, the majority of time that they themselves had control over in their lives. The average young person in 1960 was 80 percent more likely to report feeling a sense of control over their life than the average young person in 2002. Far too much importance is being placed on testing and structure, and not nearly enough on the natural development and emotional health of our young minds. I urge you to take whatever steps possible to preserve unstructured play time from being cut down in American schools.


[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: Steve Ford Elliot

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One Comment

  1. Gen Lovyet Agustsson says:

    this isnt fair! kids need to be free now!

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