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Keep your kids movin'!

April 17, 2013

Growing up, recess was always one of my favorite times during the day. It was a chance to catch a break from the classroom and run around and play with my friends. And in my playground, there were so many activities to choose from! Do we play fort in the tire tower, or a friendly game of soccer? Or do we simply find a spot in the shade and talk about “life’s problems”?

In today’s school systems, recess is starting to be valued less, as more emphasis is being placed on allowing for more time in academics. However, health experts are arguing that recess offers its own unique benefits, making it a valuable part of a child’s school day. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently released a statement that discusses these benefits, and why time for recess actually improves a child’s learning time in the classroom.

The benefits of recess for the whole child

Recess is a unique time of the day, in that it encourages rest, play, imagination, movement and socialization. These are all benefits that might not be found inside a classroom, which is why pediatricians discourage the idea of eliminating this time to allow for other academic initiatives. Let’s look at each of these benefits individually:

Cognitive/Academic Benefits. After a period of constructed learning in the classroom, children require “interruptions” in order to best process what they have just learned. Instead of moving from task 1 to task 2, it is advised that children engage in unstructured breaks in order to promote optimal cognitive processing. It has been shown that such breaks, such as recess, have helped children to be more attentive and productive in the classroom.

Social/Emotional Benefits. Recess allows time for students to engage with one another and practice important social skills. During recess, kids learn to negotiate, cooperate, share, and solve problems with one another, which are all fundamental tools necessary for navigating life.

Physical Benefits. As the issue of childhood obesity becomes more of a concern, schools are being increasingly scrutinized for their role in a child’s nutritious and physical well-being. With this in mind, recess provides a time for children to be active, helping them to achieve the recommended 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per day.

Many kids are already trading in playtime outside for time on the couch playing video games after school. Why should we encourage a sedentary lifestyle by decreasing, or taking away, the opportunity for unstructured playtime (recess) at school? 

In the statement released by the AAP, pediatricians offered several recommendations to help shape others’ perspective on recess:

  • Recess should be considered a child’s personal time and as a necessary break in the day for optimizing a child’s social, emotional, physical, and cognitive development.
  • Regular breaks from concentrated classroom work are needed to allow students to mentally decompress, which ultimately improves cognitive processing and academic performance.
  • Recess is a complement to, but not a replacement for, physical education. While both activities promote a healthy lifestyle, only recess (unstructured time) provides the creative, social, and emotional benefits of playtime.
  • Recess can counteract the sedentary time spent in the classroom and can contribute to the recommended activity time per day, as a way to decrease a child’s risk of becoming overweight.
  • Recess should be safe and well supervised. Although schools should ban activities that are unsafe, they should not ban recess due to concerns for the children’s safety.
  • Peer interactions during recess compliment what is learned during classroom time, as the various skills acquired during both settings are the building blocks needed for healthy development and growth in children.
As we can see, recess plays an important role in a child’s school day and can even improve attentiveness and learning in the classroom. As a parent, it’s important to advocate for your child’s whole well-being and in doing so, encouraging time to be set aside during the school day for unstructured play.