Thursday, August 20, 2009

No Less Recess!

A first grade teacher recently called me in a panic. She was very upset because her school board was considering eliminating recess from the school day. She did not want her school to be one of the nearly 40% of U.S. elementary schools to eliminate or are considering eliminating recess (according to the American Association for the Child’s Right to Play.) This policy is being implemented in part because of increased school accountability and student testing procedures, and the belief that time could be better spent on academics. My friend asked me to help her make a case to keep recess for the physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development of children.

The term recess refers to a break during the day to allow children the time for active, free play. During recess learning occurs in ways not possible inside the regular classroom.

Benefits of recess:

· It’s physically important! Physical movement is essential for healthy growth and development. Active play and movement helps prevent weight gain and weight-related diseases. Young children learn about their bodies’ capabilities and how to control their bodies through active movement. Exercising their own choices in the practice of physical skills, such as running, climbing, jumping, chasing, traveling, batting, kicking, catching, balancing, hanging, swinging, stretching, pushing and pulling can happen during active play in a way P.E. classes do not (Council for Physical Education and Children, 2001*.)

· It’s cognitively and academically important! Physical activity fuels more blood to the brain, thus giving it greater oxygen and energy supply and increasing the number of connections between neurons. These connections make the brain better able to process a variety of information, leading to improved retention of facts, a greater understanding of concepts, and subsequently higher academic achievement (Healy, 1998). Students who get a break are much less fidgety in the classroom. (Jarrett et al., 1998*) And, unstructured play gives the child an opportunity to exercise a sense of wonder, which leads to exploration, which leads to creativity.

· It’s emotionally important! Chemicals secreted by the brain during and after exercise enable it to deal better with stress and anxiety. (Healy, 1998).

· It’s socially important! Traditional recess activities encourage children to take turns, negotiate or modify rules, and interact cooperatively. Recess also gives the classroom teacher another opportunity to assess the child's social skills. And, group play allows children to interact with peers and to watch and learn from other children.

Did you know the U.S. Army requires that soldiers be given a 10-minute break every hour during training sessions in order to maintain productivity? Professors are required to give college students the same. Teachers’ contracts often include a daily 30-minute preparation time that offers them a break from class work plus duty-free lunch. And we know parents would complain if they didn’t get at least one break at work.
How can we expect young children to work all day with few, if any, breaks? I believe children should not only be allowed a longer recess at lunchtime but also a 15-minute recess break in the morning and afternoon.

While there are arguments against recess, I can find no research that clearly supports less recess as beneficial. The available research suggests that recess can play a very important role in the learning, social development, and overall health of children. I support my friend, and any other parents, preschool and elementary school teachers and caregivers of young children making the argument: no less recess!

*As cited by


karen said...

great blog. I have heard and know everything you say, but we need to keep saying it until all the schools in the country "get it."
Thank you for spreading the word!


M. said...

On the same would you respond to the higher-ups wanting to know the validity of using time during the day for kindergarteners to have Dramatic Play, rest time,etc ? -M.

saacsmama said...

Are you SERIOUS? We are now fighting over 15 min breaks? That's unreal and inhumane.
I didn't realize quite how good we had it with my son's (private) school, with hour-long breaks in the morning and at lunch.