How Recess Promotes Social and Emotional Learning

How Recess Promotes Social and Emotional Learning

Many students look forward to recess every day as an opportunity to play with their friends and spend time outdoors. However, recess can also provide vital developmental growth, including social and emotional learning.

Read the whole article or jump to a specific section:

Benefits of Recess for Children

What Is Social-Emotional Learning?

The Stages of Social-Emotional Learning

Why Is Social-Emotional Learning Important?

The Role of Recess in Social-Emotional Learning

How to Encourage Social-Emotional Learning on the Playground

Creating a Playground That Supports Social Development

The Benefits of Recess for Children

Recess offers several benefits to students, from increased physical activity to cognitive and social growth. However, many schools fail to see and understand what recess can provide to students. Around 40% of schools across the country have limited or cut recess from daily schedules, and about 77% of principals admit to denying recess as a form of punishment for students.

CDC recommends 60 minutes of physical activity a day for kids.

Physical Benefits

Kids need time to get outside and play, with the CDC recommending around 60 minutes of physical activity each day for kids. Recess can provide the perfect opportunity for kids to get some physical activity each school day when classes and homework might make it challenging. Physical activity and play on the playground can benefit kids in many ways, including:

  • Increasing brain activity: Physical activity helps increase blood flow to the brain, which helps improve brain activity. When students have recess to play and get some physical activity, they can stimulate their brains.
  • Receiving more vitamin D: Recess usually takes place outside and allows kids to experience some time outdoors when they might otherwise spend large portions of the day in the classroom. Vitamin D is an essential nutrient for the body and can support healthy immune systems, bones and brains. Playing outside is an excellent way for kids to gain this vitamin naturally.
  • Strengthening muscles and bones: While vitamin D can support healthy bones, so can physical activity itself. As kids play at recess, they can build muscles and bones for stronger, more resilient bodies. Actions like jumping and skipping can strengthen bones, and students can develop fine motor skills through games and play.
  • Lowering the risk of developing diseases: Physical activity can help promote healthier bodies that reduce kids’ chances of developing type two diabetes and heart disease when they are older. Further, physical activity has cognitive benefits that can benefit a child’s mental health and decrease the risk of depression.

Academic Benefits

While play can benefit kids physically, this kind of engagement and activity can also help students excel in school. Many people have linked breaks to deeper, quicker learning because they give the brain a chance to process information and prepare for continual learning.

Recess also gives students a chance to expel excess energy in a productive, safe environment. Many younger students can become fidgety during school, making it challenging to focus on important lessons. Recess can give students a break from structured activities and let them expend excess energy for increased attention, concentration and focus in the classroom.

Unstructured play helps give kids freedom.

Social-Emotional Benefits

Play is vital in building kids’ emotional and social skills, especially in unstructured play sessions like recess. These play settings give students a place where they can practice social skills with their peers in real-time, allowing them to develop essential skills like:

  • Collaboration.
  • Communication.
  • Compromise.
  • Conflict-resolution.
  • Leadership.
  • Negotiation.
  • Perseverance.
  • Sharing.
  • Self-control.

Recess and unstructured play can be beneficial for kids’ emotions. Unstructured play helps give kids some freedom and control in their structured lives. They can use this time to do what they want and express themselves in ways they might not be able to in the classroom or during lunch periods, which can reduce stress in kids. Unstructured play also lets students process their emotions, and playing with other students encourages stronger empathy skills.

What is Social-Emotional Learning?

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What Is Social-Emotional Learning?

Social-emotional learning develops a child’s social and emotional skills and capacities as they grow. This type of learning can start in infancy and continue through adulthood, but early growth and experiences can help kids build the skills they need to succeed in several aspects of life.

Social-emotional learning can provide kids with several abilities, from managing their own emotions to connecting with others and developing healthy friendships. Because the brain links cognitive and emotional functions, having vital social and emotional learning skills can help boost cognitive processes, such as decision-making, learning and attention.

Some other skills social-emotional learning can provide would include:

  • Regulating behavior: As kids learn what behavior is acceptable and the emotions of others, they can learn to self-regulate their behavior. They might learn how to calm themselves down when angry or choose less destructive actions when encountering unexpected outcomes. Regulated behavior represents more mature emotional and social learning and understanding.
  • Creating and maintaining friendships: Kids can interact and develop friendships with their peers from a very young age. However, establishing meaningful friendships that last long periods can represent emotional maturity and understanding of social-emotional skills.
  • Building confidence: While much of social-emotional learning involves interpersonal relationships and understanding, kids can also learn and develop relationships with themselves. Part of emotional development is learning their strengths and weaknesses and how they might differ from those around them. Confidence represents their acceptance of their strengths.
  • Managing anxiety and stress: When kids are young, they might have difficulty managing stressors and fears. They might throw tantrums or cry when they don’t get what they want or become scared. Emotional learning teaches kids to manage worries and stress in their daily lives so they can handle unexpected or undesirable situations better.
  • Making good decisions: Part of social learning is understanding societal norms and expectations. When kids make decisions, they can use this understanding to determine the appropriate response or result. For example, they might learn that the best way to get their teacher’s attention is to speak to them instead of shouting across quiet learning areas.
  • Resisting negative peer or social pressures: Through emotional learning, kids develop a sense of self. This can help contribute to their confidence, but it can also help them overcome various social pressures. They can better determine what they want to do, whether making decisions for their futures or turning down negative offers.
  • Understanding the emotions of others: Part of kids realizing their sense of self involves learning that others might experience emotions different than theirs. This skill can help develop their empathy and overall treatment of others. For example, kids might notice when someone else is sad and ask them if they’re okay.

With so many beneficial skills, social-emotional learning is an essential aspect of development in kids. This type of learning can help create capable adults who are aware of themselves and others around them. Social-emotional learning can help ready them for success in their personal, academic and work lives.

The Stages of Social-Emotional Learning

Caregivers can observe social-emotional development and skills in children. However, because it can span over many years, caregivers should understand what milestones and results to look for to see if kids are growing socially and emotionally.

Even Throughout infancy, children can begin emotional growth.

1. Infants

Even throughout infancy, children can begin emotional growth, setting the foundation for emotional and social skills they’ll need as they grow.

Babies as young as three months can show emotional growth in various ways. Infants might be able to regulate their emotions on a very simple level, such as calming themselves by sucking their thumb. Further, they might understand when they experience positive feelings and experiences, such as fun and enjoyment — babies might laugh and smile during specific activities but cry when they stop.

Emotional growth will only grow from this stage on. At four to six months, babies might start copying their caregiver’s movements and facial expressions, adding to their emotional range. Further, they might begin to desire social engagement, which they often represent through banging objects.

Their social and emotional growth develops further at nine months. They can learn the meaning of words they hear consistently, adding to their communication skills. They might develop a sense of self by looking at themselves in the mirror. However, they grow more attached to their caregivers at this stage — babies might fear strangers and will show preferences toward their caregivers by reaching or crying for them if passed to someone else.

At the year mark, babies can experience more independence as they start crawling. However, this independence can also show in food preferences, where they might reject foods they don’t like or want. They might attempt to get the attention of others by repeating actions or sounds.

2. Toddlers

As babies learn to walk and become toddlers, they will experience and want increased independence. At around one to two years, toddlers often have a hard time understanding the world around them and expressing themselves. They will believe that everyone thinks the same way they do and might throw tantrums when they do not get what they want or are not the center or attention. While they might like playing with other kids, they often have difficulty sharing.

At three years, toddlers will begin to show more complex emotions. They might become upset by changes in routines or act concerned about their personal needs, leading to selfish actions. However, they will also start showing affection to their friends and might enjoy copying others while cooking or cleaning.

Preschool is a tie of significant emotional and social growth for kids.

3. Preschool Students

Preschool is a time of significant emotional and social growth for kids. Because they learn alongside other kids and teachers, they can gain essential social skills. At around three or four, they begin developing better cooperative skills as they learn how to share with other kids. They might also start to use their words to communicate instead of screaming or throwing a tantrum. Kids can even begin expressing problem-solving skills, like taking turns when playing together.

By five, kids might have someone they consider their best friend. They are often more cooperative with rules, but it is natural to observe changes in their attitudes. At this age, they better understand others’ feelings and might act sensitively toward them.

In early elementary school, students learn to better identify and manage their emotions.

4. Elementary School Students

Elementary school social-emotional learning involves students continuing to learn more emotional depth and gaining more social knowledge. In early elementary school, students will learn to better identify and manage their emotions and control their impulses to fit social standards and rules. They often grow more independent in these years, learning to make decisions on their own or handle larger responsibilities, like cleaning their rooms or looking after their toys. They might also start requesting more private and alone time as part of their growing independence.

Throughout elementary school, kids build and refine their sense of self. It is more fluid at this stage in their life, but they start to learn what makes them unique and how they might fit into social structures. However, they might also worry about how they fit in with their classmates or friends and develop fears of people viewing them as awkward. Many elementary school students can maintain healthy, positive friendships, and students often find a best friend.

By the end of elementary school, students will understand how to behave appropriately in various social situations. They have more refined social and emotional skills and know how to resolve problems. They also understand different conflict responses, like passive, assertive and aggressive.

Students will gain several social skills in addition to emotional development. Students can begin negotiating, expressing opinions, cooperating and respecting rules and authority figures.

Why Is Social-Emotional Learning Important?

Social-emotional learning is essential for establishing crucial development in kids’ lives, but it can also have significant long-term effects as well, including:

  • Improving relationships with family and friends: When students experience comprehensive social-emotional learning and have opportunities to gain various skills, they can form stronger relationships with the people around them. Kids who learn empathy from a young age can bring that to their friendships, family relationships and other situations, like relationships with teachers and bosses. These social and emotional skills remain relevant and allow them to thrive socially.
  • Increasing academic and career success: This type of learning can help teach students about cause and effect by teaching that their actions and words affect others around them. They can apply this knowledge to their education and careers, creating stronger habits, like improved attendance, grades and classroom behavior. Further, students with this kind of learning are more likely to graduate high school and attend a four-year university.
  • Bettering their mental health: Because social-emotional learning aims to teach kids how to handle stressors and understand themselves, it can boost mental health and reduce the effects of depression and anxiety. Kids can better understand their strengths, and the healthy relationships they have can help raise their confidence.

Teaching kids social-emotional learning young helps them turn skills into habits. While people can grow their social and emotional skills at any time in their lives, kids’ minds are still malleable and better at learning. Further, unique opportunities in school, like recess, lunch and afterschool programs, provide the ideal environment for learning and practicing social and emotional skills.

Recess allows kids to create rules and boundaries and determine how to enforce them.

The Role of Recess in Social-Emotional Learning

While social-emotional learning can provide kids with the essential skills they need, kids also need spaces where they can practice. Recess gives kids the opportunity to test various skills and techniques with their peers and friends, who are also learning.

Recess is a unique part of the school day because it gives some control and autonomy back to students. Many teachers discourage talking or playing in the classroom to keep the focus on academic learning. While students can socialize in the lunchroom or other communal spaces, they might still have strict rules enforced by caregivers.

Recess is freer, allowing kids to create rules and boundaries and determine how to enforce them. Students can choose how to spend their time each day. They might want to play pretend with a small group of close friends or join larger classes in a game of tag. Some students might appreciate the opportunity to play independently, which can help them process emotions and subject material.

During recess, students can practice following and respecting rules by playing pre-established games, like four-square or hopscotch. Games allow students to practice several skills, like sharing, waiting, taking turns, collaboration, communication and respect while having fun and getting physical activity.

However, students can also choose to make up games with their friends or pretend play. These activities can help cultivate their creativity while developing their social and emotional skills. Many kids use pretend play to process emotions or express themselves, so these types of games can help teach empathy and respect for other perspectives.

Many recess sessions involve multiple grades playing together at the same time. Older kids can help demonstrate higher social and emotional understanding levels, allowing younger kids to observe and try skills themselves. While teachers don’t usually participate in recess, they are nearby should students need them.

How to Encourage Social-Emotional Learning on the Playground

Teachers and caregivers can help promote student learning through recess by establishing good habits and leading by example. Young kids learn social and emotional skills through observation and guidance. Teachers and other caregivers can help demonstrate them to students through various actions, including:

  • Asking questions when they’re upset: Kids can get frustrated or upset when playing on the playground or with other children. Teachers can help students identify and manage their emotions by asking them why they might feel upset and providing options as a solution. For example, if a student is upset because they can’t reach the monkey bars, a teacher’s questions can reveal the student feels left out from their friends. The teacher can then suggest they play on the slide or the swings instead.
  • Practicing empathy with conflict-resolution: When problems arise between students on the playground, teachers might need to step in to help. As they guide students through the problem, they can address what each student is feeling. This habit can help students recognize their friends’ and classmates’ feelings and help them understand they might feel something different.
  • Playing collaborative games: Many games involve students competing against one another individually. Instead, teachers can establish collaborative games, like team games, where groups need to work together to achieve a common goal. Students can still have fun while fine-tuning several skills, like communication, teamwork and sharing.

By incorporating strong social-emotional teaching techniques, teachers and caregivers can help foster social-emotional growth and development in their students while on the playground.


Creating a Playground That Supports Social Development

While teachers and caregivers can help kids develop the essential skills needed for social-emotional learning, building the right environment can also help students. At Playworld, we offer quality and unique playground equipment for early childhood and school-age children that can inspire social and emotional growth, including:

  • PlayCubes® 4.0: Playworld designed the PlayCubes collection with physical and social play in mind. This playground equipment encourages kids to explore the various pathways, whether they choose to climb or crawl. The open design leaves room for imagination, allowing kids to invent their adventures when playing.
  • Challengers® Vienna: The Vienna is a more traditional piece of playground equipment with a colorful and whimsical design that kids love. With a double slide and wide walkways and climbing features, this equipment can help encourage collaboration and group play, with elements that still allow for sharing and taking turns.
  • Branch Out® Adventure Grove: With a design that resembles a treehouse, the Adventure Grove can be the perfect piece to inspire imaginative pretend play on your playground. The spacious plan leaves space for many kids, encouraging group games.

Help Your Students Thrive With Playworld

Recess benefits are comprehensive, ranging from physical to academic, but recess can also be the perfect environment for kids to develop crucial social and emotional skills. With long-lasting impacts, social-emotional learning can help kids develop the skills they need to thrive in several settings, including school and work.

When you know the importance of recess for students, you can help contribute to what your students can gain from their playtime by designing their playground. Playworld has decades of experience creating engaging and inclusive play equipment that encourages collaborative play and social-emotional development.

Contact Playworld today about bringing your playground to life or request a quote.

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