I was reading an article this morning that was posted a couple of days ago in NYtimes. http://happydays.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/09/02/let-the-children-play-some-more/?th&emc=th . The title of the article is "let the children play (some more). this article is based on US schools ofcourse and talks about how recess and play times have been cut down in most schools to give way to more intense education. The article mentions how more children are getting into depression and having obesity and behavioral disorder problems.
Coming from India, I am familiar with no downtime in school problem. We had one recess i.e. lunch time and once a week PT (physical training). But atleast once the school is done, however much stressful it was, we were free to go out and play (ofcourse once homework is done too..) but these days with so many electronic media all around us, favorite pasttime is not playing games outside but rather watch tv or play video games or chat on internet. Its not just India and US...more and more countries are facing the problem..balancing between the higher demands of education and childrens well being.
In that aspect, Finland seems to be very consistent and insistent on having breaks between classes, give enough downtime for kids to rejuvenate their brains and have more playtime outside (even in the middle of winter). They start school late but catch up with their peers around the world pretty fast. In surveys done with children around the world, Finnish children often come in the top5 in math, science and reading abilities. They attribute this to giving more time for children to be children, uniform core curriculum and high standard of teachers.
When I talk about "play and learn", people here immediately get it. They understand it very well. Recently I was talking to the headmaster of one of the schools in Tampere about the museum and she said they believe and try to get their children especially lower than sixth grade to play and "invent" rather than just teach them theories behind everything. Wow! what else can we ask for:)