27 Jan 2015

In Defense of Recess

These days it seems there is more pressure than ever on schools, and subsequently students, to do well academically. More time is being given to preparing for standardized tests, with necessary breaks like lunch and especially recess taking a backseat to lesson plans. Of course no one is going to deny a child their midday meal, but many schools throughout the United States are seeing their recess time disappear. Those in charge claim that the scheduled free time is a “waste,” and would be better spent drilling multiplication tables or writing essays, but a study recently released by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) seems to suggest otherwise.

The AAP has declared that recess is not only beneficial, but necessary to a child’s overall development. When recess is delayed, or denied altogether, students are less focused and therefore less likely to retain the information being taught. Think about it: When was the last time you tried to sit and concentrate for 7 hours straight with only a 20-30 minute lunch in between? This is an incredibly difficult task for even an adult to handle, so why would we demand it from our children? After a certain amount of time, the brain needs a break to absorb everything it just learned. Without an opportunity to “mentally digest,” students turn restless and inattentive, and it becomes increasingly difficult for them to process any new information. Thus, even though it seems like children should be learning more by spending more time in the classroom, keeping them in ultimately has the opposite effect.

Believing that students learn nothing while engaging in free playtime is also a false assumption. Not only do periodic breaks help children (and adolescents) process new information, they also help with stress management. Movement during recess counterbalances sedentary class time; the AAP recommends at least 60 minutes of activity per day to counteract obesity, which is why recess should be held in addition to PE classes. For younger children, free play is crucial to their overall cognitive and social development, as it is during this time that they learn social competence and hone their motor skills. Because of these benefits, recess should never be withheld for punitive or academic reasons; not only is this tactic detrimental to the student, but to the school he or she attends as well. Test scores can fluctuate for any number of reasons, but one thing is clear: Denying children their regularly scheduled recess time is not, and will never be the best solution.

Take a minute to check out the recess policies in your school district.  If you suspect that your child is not getting the allotted recess time, or that recess is being withheld for punitive reasons, get in touch with the teacher or school administrator right away to discuss alternative options.

To read the entire report published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, click here.

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