Recess or no recess? This is a decision elementary school districts throughout the United States are making. Principals and school boards are deciding if they will allow students recess or restrict it to fit in more academic instructional time.
Since the early 2000’s, recess has decreased in many elementary schools. Within the last decade, media reports have showcased students, parents, teachers, pediatricians, and government officials taking a stand to put recess back into the school day.
How Does Recess Impact Children’s Health
Pediatricians stress how important play is in healthy childhood development. Because play happens during recess, recess is necessary for students’ health and the healthy development of their academic skills.
- Play is necessary for children to meet their developmental milestones and develop healthy bodies and brains (Barros et al., 2009, p. 431).
- Recess provides breaks from academic tasks which helps students combat stress and anxiety (Danaher, 2018, p. 15).
- Recess can help children achieve their recommended 60 minutes of rigorous activity daily to combat childhood diseases like obesity and type II diabetes (Huberty et al., 2012, p. 989).
What Happened to Recess?
This local Georgia news station has an answer.
How factual are their facts?
1. 20% of schools cut recess an average of 50 minutes per week—TRUE
- Between 2001 and 2008 recess was cut 50 minutes per week from 20% of schools (Stapp & Karr, 2018, p. 449).
2. Educational reform acts like No Child Left Behind (NCLB) are responsible for recess cutbacks—TRUE
- Several research groups cite NCLB as the push behind recess cuts (Stapp & Karr, 2018, p. 449; Martin et al., 2018, p. 249; Huberty et al., 2012, p. 990).
3. Test scores needed to be boosted, so schools figured more academic instructional time was needed and cut recess—TRUE
- Schools cut recess because it was “not perceived to enhance students’ testing abilities” (Martin et al., 2018, p. 249).
- Teacher’s perspective: “You have to meet these standards and in order to meet these standards you have to teach and if you are out at recess you’re not teaching and you can’t meet the standards” (Huberty et al., 2012, p. 990.)
What’s the Big Deal?
Why should schools and governments be fighting to put recess back into their schools? Simon Link explains why.
In this local news report from Wisconsin (view link above), a first grade teacher states recess helps her students focus when they get back into the classroom. One student says she feels better after recess, and another boy warns if recess is taken away students may become angry (unintentionally) and do badly on their work. But how factual are Simon’s and the reporter’s facts?
Does Recess Help Kids Learn?
Yes! Several research studies have examined recess’s impact on foundational academic skills. The results are clear students do…
1. Attend Better after Recess
- Students “[work] less efficiently when confined to their classroom in continuous instructional time (Barros, 2009, p. 435).
- Students’ ability to block out distractions and continue paying attention to their work increases after recess (Brez & Sheets, 2017, p. 441)
- Students’ brains and nervous systems are immature, and their experience in learning is limited. So, they require more breaks to maintain attention for optimal learning (Danaher, 2018, p. 24).
2. Focus Better after Recess
- Recess increases neurotransmitters in the brain, increase oxygen saturation, and cause growth in neurotropic factors. Students’ brains and genes do change when exposed to play during recess, and these changes increases the amount of time they can productively focus on tasks (Stapp & Karr, 2018, P. 453).
- Recess = more focus = more learning and less daydreaming
3. Retain Information Better after Recess
- During cognitive rest (happening at recess), students’ brains transition what they learned from short term to long term memory. They come back into class after recess physically able to take in more information (Danaher, 2018, p. 23).
- No recess = brains not processing information = unproductive learning (Danaher, 2018, p. 23).
4. Behave Better after Recess
- Recess makes student’s calmer, more receptive to teaching and learning, and less irritable and disruptive (Martin, et al., 2018, p. 251-252).
- Students are calmer, more relaxed, and less negative after recess (Martin et al., 2019, p. 251).
- Academic work without recess = students unable to focus or remain on task = students become disruptive and misbehave
- Academic work with recess = students’ brains reset = students return to class ready to learn and are less disruptive
5. Listen Better after Recess
- Students who do not receive frequent recesses use more brain power to simply listen to teachers (Lund et al., 2017, p. 5).
- Students given frequent recesses do not use brain power to listen and can use additional brain power to complete academic work (Lund et al., 2017, p. 5).
Does Recess Help Kids Develop Social Skills?
Yes! Researchers agree recess is an arena where children are exposed to real life communication and social interactions. Recess is built on free play, meaning students can decide what and how they play and who they play with. Free play is what develops social skills.
- Social skills are learned easier during free play than during lessons about them in the classroom (AAP, 2013, p. 184).
- During recess students learn communication, negotiation, cooperation, sharing, problem solving, perseverance, self-control, self-regulation (AAP, 2013, p. 184; Brez & Sheets, 2017, p. 434)
- During recess students develop their creativity, resiliency, and leadership skills (AAP, 2009, p. 431).
2. The social and emotional benefits of recess extend further than the playground and add to student performance and behavior in the classroom (AAP, 2013, p. 184, 186).
- Students problem solve for classroom work better because they have learned and done it at recess (Martin et al., 2018, pp. 251-252).
- Peers get along better in class (Martin et al., 2018, p. 250).
As accurately reported in the media and backed up by peer reviewed scientific studies its proven recess is an important factor in children’s health, well-being, and academic development. Every individual can be an advocate for children and support the schools and people trying to put recess back into schools. If instructional time and recess are appropriately scheduled to complement student’s brain needs, students will be equipped to reach their highest levels of health and academic success.
11Alive. (2019, July 29). Why have schools cut recess time? [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=voxz8xLNIuc&list=WL&index=3
American Academy of Pediatrics. (2013). The crucial role of recess in school. Pediatrics 131(1),183- 188. doi:10.1542/peds.2012-2993
Barros, R. M., Silver, E. J., & Stein, R. E. (2009). School recess and group classroom behavior. Pediatrics 123(2), 431-436. doi:10.1542/peds.2007-2825
Brez, C., & Sheets, V. (2017). Classroom benefits of recess. Learning Environments Research, 20(3), 433-445. doi:10.1007/s10984-017-9237-x
Channel 3000/News 3 Now. (2013, January 7). Pediatricians stress value of recess for schoolchildren [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6zV3cyQ1JuA&list=WL&index=3&t=0s
Danaher, S. E. (2018). Scheduling of recess before mathematics and third grade achievement in Virginia: A casual comparative study (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Liberty University.
Huberty, J., Dinkel, D., Coleman, J., Beighle, A., & Apenteng, B. (2012). The role of schools in children’s physical activity participation: staff perceptions. Health Education Research, 27(6), 986-995. doi:10.1093/her/cys071
Lund, E., Brimo, D., Rhea, D., Rivchun, A. (2017). The effect of multiple recesses on listening effort: A preliminary study. Journal of Educational, Pediatric, & (Re)Habilitative Audiology, 23, 1-7.
Martin, H., Farrell, A., Gray, J., & Clark, T. B. (2018). Perceptions of the effect of recess on kindergartners. The Physical Educator, 75(2), 245-254. doi:10.18666/tpe-2018-v75-i2-7740
Stapp, A.C., & Karr, J. K. (2018). Effect of recess on fifth grade students’ time on-task in an elementary classroom. International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education, 10(4), 449-456. doi:10.26822/iejee.2018438135
TEDx Talks (2014, December 18). Kids need recess/Simon Link/ TEDxAmanaAcademy [Videofile]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kh9GbYugA1Y&list=WL&index=6