One North Texas school district is the first in the nation to give all their primary grade students more playtime. They are piloting a program that calls for recess four times a day, but it comes with faddish social and emotional (SEL) learning as part of the package.
In 2016, the Little Elm Independent School District test ran Let’s Inspire Innovation ‘N Kids, or LiiNK, in three of their five elementary schools. To date, 20 schools in Texas and Oklahoma adopted this program but, this year, only Little Elm, a suburb north of Dallas, implemented LiiNK for all its elementary school students, according to WFAA.
Debbie Rhea, Assistant Dean of Research for the Texas Christian University (TCU) College of Nursing and Health Sciences, created LiiNK after a trip to Finland to study their schools, known for netting exceptional standardized testing results. Finnish schools also give students 15 minute breaks every hour.
“All these years we’ve been taking away play at playgrounds at schools and coming more indoors for everything we did,” said Rhea. She told WFAA: “Right now across the country, we have teachers that just can’t teach because they can’t get the focus of the kids. We’re creating a culture change and we’re shifting that culture so the kids are more relaxed and focused so that learning can take place.”
With LiiNK, for each hour children sit in a classroom, they get 15 minutes outside for recess, totaling four recesses per school day. That playtime involves unstructured and imaginative play, unfettered by organized field athletics or teacher-led prompted playground activities. She says children return to class refreshed. “Kids can be creative and critically think and socialize in a way that they don’t get to do indoors when they’re in a classroom.”
For years, researchers espoused the benefits of recess in alleviating stress and increasing classroom focus. The American Association of Pediatrics emphasized its importance with youngsters’ increasingly sedentary lifestyles. Many children only see 20 minutes of outdoor playtime at school each day.
As part of the LiiNK study, TCU compares the findings of participating schools with those that do not and, so far, they say additional playtime boosts reading and math skills. “You see that all the academics get better, everything gets better,” said Rhea. “They become happier, more stable, more adjusted children.”
Playtime is not all the children get from LiiNK. It folds in four character development lessons per week through Positive Action, a program that teaches self-management and targets academics, behavior, character, mental health, school climate, and parent and community involvement in 15 minute classroom sessions that are reinforced in activities all day long, according to Carol Gerber Allred, Ph.D., M.Ed., its creator. “Children who need extra help,would be seeing appropriate interventionists, and parents would be attending parent classes to learn how to parent kids at home.”
Positive Action is recognized by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) which peddles 21st Century soft-skills learning and the feelings or values-based competencies of “emotional” intelligence (EI) rather than academic or intellectual acumen (IQ).
Last year, Jane Robbins, American Principles Project senior fellow, dubbed CASEL “the big gorilla in the zoo of social-emotional learning, or SEL.” She noted that the “progressive-education establishment in this country” consider SEL the “next big thing to fix the problems with public education.”
Chapter 29 of the Texas Education Code (TEC) already accounts for a comprehensive list of character traits that a program must impart, including courage, trustworthiness, reliability, punctuality, integrity, respect and courtesy; responsibility, diligence, perseverance, self-control, good citizenship, patriotism, concern for the common good and the community; compassion, kindness, empathy, charity, and school pride. According to the TEC, the character education program “does not require or authorize proselytizing or indoctrinating concerning any specific religion or political belief.”
Breitbart Texas reached out to Rhea to learn more about Positive Action. She did not respond before press time.
Follow Merrill Hope, a member of the original Breitbart Texas team, on Twitter.