Complex and diverse challenges face our students, teachers and schools. While addressing and assessing student academic achievement is a top priority, student preparation for success also includes attending to their mental and physical health.
Schools are being pushed to meet testing demands. With limited time and resources available, districts may create room for academic instruction by reducing recess time. Yet this short-term response may be creating long-term negative consequences for our students.
Recess is critical to the well-being of our children. Acknowledging its importance challenges all of us to look beyond test scores to focus on the development of the whole child.
The physical benefits of recess are well established. Recess allows students to develop large motor skills, engage in sports and increase their activity levels. Recess also encourages children to choose and vary their active pursuits.
Recess directly contributes to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommended 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous daily activity.
As Dr. Gayle Gorke, executive director for Kids Kan Inc., suggests, the type of activity is less important than movement itself: “Just run. Just go and bounce off of something, and climb onto something.”
Whether it is four square, hopscotch, monkey bars, kickball or some other activity, the physical benefits of student play are widespread and well researched.
Yet the benefits of recess extend far beyond a child’s physical well-being. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, recess also enhances a child’s cognitive, emotional and social development. Recess promotes communication, negotiation and problem-solving skills.
It also provides a way for students to vent frustrations, anxiety and even anger in an appropriate setting. Memories of playground joys and conflicts help adults recall how recess shapes the soft skills we all need. By being both unstructured and supervised, recess provides a unique setting for children to interact, test and develop the skills that aid their overall social growth.
In addition to the physical and social-emotional benefits, recess also enhances academic outcomes. The academy reports that following recess, students demonstrate increased focus and cognitive processing. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation describes it as “an underutilized opportunity to improve the overall learning environment in our schools.”
Schools are being challenged to address issues, such as depression, violence and obesity, which go far beyond classroom learning. Recess is a serious educational strategy and we should all support its critical role in developing well-rounded, thoughtful, successful kids.