UCA Blog

Why We Play

At UCA we spend 1,600 hours a year in school. About 15% of that time is spent playing. We believe deeply in the power of play. There are three primary reasons we invest so much time in kid play: brain health, body health and social /emotional health.


Brain Health:

Physical exercise increases blood flow to the brain which helps new neurons grow. This means that exercise is promoting neuroplasticity, increased learning and increased memory. Research suggests that 20 minutes of aerobic exercise has the same impact as adderall does for kids with ADD/ADHD. This is because increased blood flow helps engage the executive function of the brain and enlarges the hippocampus. According to the American Association for the Child's Right to Play, as many as 40 percent of school districts in the United States have reduced recess in the past 10 years. The thought process is often that in order to attain the rigorous standards of learning required we don’t have time for kids to “waste” outside playing. At UCA we believe the opposite. If our levels of rigor increase we must also increase our minutes of play. Our brains need the extra blood flow and increased oxygen to navigate the rigor with excellence and retention.


Body Health:

Our bones, hearts, lungs and muscles all depend on movement to be healthy. We also know that exercise allows our bodies to complete the stress cycle. Stress increases the levels of adrenaline and cortisol in our bodies and exercise combats the negative impacts of these chemicals by pumping endorphins into our bodies. When bodies are flooded with stress hormones it impacts our gut health which can cause significant health issues. Exercise gives our body a way to clear out stress in a productive and healthy way. Not all kids have access to backyards or neighborhoods with safe sidewalks and for some kids, recess is the only safe space they have to get outside and move. As Barbra Brown Taylor eloquently said, the body is “the address of our soul”.


Social / Emotional Health:

Dr. Karen Purvis’ work around trust-based relationships is an integral piece of the UCA culture. A phrase found over and over in her work says, “nothing disarms fear like play.” We take these words very seriously. We know that movement distracts the guard dog of our brain and allows us to access not just the lower fight/flight/freeze part of our brain but the upstairs prefrontal cortex of our brain as well. This access to the whole brain helps us make sense of the world and solve conflicts. Movement is so often the bridge that we need to get from dysregulation to self-regulation. We know that movement decreases the crushing weight of anxiety and depression and it also gives an outlet for the whole range of human emotions. Regulated kids have healthier bodies and brains and are more capable of learning and retaining information.


So yes, we play. Science shows that it is an essential part of a healthy body, brain and soul. We know that academic success is dependent on healthy and whole scholars showing up with bodies, brains and souls that are ready to learn.


This year amazing play has happened without a playground. Scholars have flexed their creativity in beautiful ways. We will leave open play areas for more of this creative and imaginative play to exist in. We also know that climbing, jumping, swinging, crawling and sliding are all essential parts of developmentally appropriate play for elementary age scholars. Kids need access to these types of play opportunities to develop their gross motor skills.




Play really does matter and it plays a crucial role in the mission and vision of UCA. Caring for kids well means cultivating vibrant spaces where play can flourish. We are asking UCA champions to consider making a one time or monthly investment into this essential aspect of UCA learning. Your investment will disarm fear and invite healthy chemicals into the address of the souls we love deeply.


Click HERE to make an investment!






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