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Recess – A Continuing Tradition or a Distant Memory?


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines recess as time offered daily for child-directed physical activity and play. Many positive outcomes are realized when children participate in recess.

Five key benefits of recess include:

Cognitive – Children learn by exploring and experimenting with the world through active, hands-on manipulative experiences, which help to develop intellectual constructs.

Social – Recess provides opportunities for children to develop social-emotional learning through cooperation, negotiating, and sharing.

Emotional – Cooperation and conflict resolution skills developed during recess aid in the development of friendships.

Health – The American Academy of Pediatrics found participation in daily recess builds strength, coordination, cardiovascular fitness, and moderates childhood obesity.

Creative – Recess provides fertile ground for pretend play, which fosters cognitive flexibility and divergent thinking skills.

Each day throughout America 55 million students attend school. During the past 30 years an alarming trend to reduce and/or eliminate recess has impacted more and more of them. The numbers are astounding. It is estimated that 40,000 schools across America today are reducing or eliminating daily recess time. To highlight, a recent report titled Crisis in the kindergarten: Why children need to play in school found that just 30 years ago 40 percent of the school day was devoted to child-initiated play compared with just 25 percent today.Playworld Systems Unity Steppers

So why is recess in jeopardy? Research highlights several mitigating factors: academic pressure, playground bullying, liability issues, and safety concerns. In addition, there is mounting evidence across multiple disciplines that link an absence of daily recess to negative outcomes for children including childhood obesity, rising diagnosis of anxiety disorders and depression, underdeveloped social competence, inflexibility, risk aversion, and stifled creativity and imagination.

So what can advocates, children, parents, teachers, school leaders, and policy makers do to advance recess as a critical aspect of whole child development?

These five tips are a good starting point:

Know the facts –Research challenges the growing trend to reduce or eliminate recess from the school day.

AdvocateArticle 31 of the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child holds that children have the right to relax and play.

Defend recess – The American Academy of Pediatrics believes that recess is a child’s cherished time and that it should not be curtailed as a form of punishment.

Find solutions to societal factors devaluing recess – Provide research-based solutions to the barriers curtailing school recess.

View recess as a key piece to the puzzle – Daily recess helps children to meet the physical activity guidelines set by the CDC.