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Tokyo ward implements outdoor play in all primary schools in bid to increase kids' stamina

Children are seen exerting themselves while enjoying a game of tag at Nishikasai Elementary School in Tokyo's Edogawa Ward last year. (Mainichi)

Tokyo's Edogawa Ward, hoping to improve student energy levels, will begin a program next fiscal year in all 71 of its elementary schools whereby kids will play longstanding traditional outdoor games such as tag and jump rope.

    According to local board of education officials, this is the first case of a municipality introducing outdoor play in all of its schools.

    The ward's Nishikasai Elementary School began implementing outdoor play time on an experimental basis in January 2013, since which time the long 25-minute break between classes has been utilized once per week for what is known as "waku waku (exciting) time."

    On one such day, an announcement was made over the school's loudspeaker saying, "Alright everyone, let's have a great time playing!" The school's 737 students then proceeded to spill out simultaneously onto the school grounds.

    Dividing into groups of 20 to 30, the youngsters then formed themselves into circles and began engaging in games from among a total of 22 different styles of play, including cross tag, circle tag, S-shaped tag, and long rope-style jump rope, with their teachers instructing them.

    A group of first-graders shouted out, "Tap your foot! Now spin around, and jump!" as they happily played jump rope. One boy said excitedly, "It's fun to jump all together."

    Until fiscal 2012, the school's results in a test of students' stamina levels was lower than the metropolitan Tokyo average. In fact, the school did not even reach the ward average, which was even lower still.

    School principal Yasuo Yamashita consequently decided to implement the outdoor play periods, for which teachers studied the rules in advance in order to serve as the games' leaders.

    "When we ourselves were children, we would play with our friends after school and therefore naturally moved our bodies -- but things today are different," Yamashita explained. "My hope was that even those kids who are not athletically inclined would be able to experience the joy of moving their bodies."

    As a result of the program, boys in four of the school's grades -- and girls in five of its grades -- scored above the national average test scores in fiscal 2014, propelling the school to become the top in the ward. Particularly notable progress was made in the sports of jumping side to side and shuttle runs.

    Moreover, a survey of children's attitudes revealed that around 100 more students had indicated that it was "fun to move your body" and "fun to move your body together with others in a group" as compared with past surveys.

    In response to the survey results, the ward's board of education decided to implement the outdoor play periods in all of its elementary schools, expanding the program to reach a total of around 35,000 students. Each individual school is free to decide the timing and frequency thereof.

    "The physical strength of students in Edogawa Ward is low compared with the total level in metropolitan Tokyo," commented Tatsuya Inagaki, head of the ward's board of education supervisory office. "Fewer students are playing traditional historical outdoor games, while more and more students are notably playing video games and engaging in other indoor activities."

    He added, "Our hope is that these students will learn outdoor play on the school yard, which will then serve to help increase their energy levels."

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