The Importance of Recess

It troubles me that recess has even become an issue. My mom called me a few months ago to tell me that some schools not too far from her had opted to do away with recess. According to a September 8, 2012 article in The Post-Standard, Syracuse (NY) City schools eliminated recess from their schedules.

The first thing I think that’s important to point out is the reasoning offered by districts like Syracuse to do away with recess. According to the Post Standard article, “Syracuse’s student achievement is among the lowest in the state, and (Chief Academic Officer, Laura) Kelley contends focusing on instruction is more important than spending time on recess.

What I found interesting, is that Kelley was later quoted saying, “Many schools, actually most of our elementary schools, have not been offering recess for quite some time. They’ve opted to spend as many minutes as they can on instruction.”

This begs the question, as to how no recess is working out. As I see it, they’ve already proven a point I was about to make—that recess time (or time spent away from academics) is better for scores. If Syracuse City schools have some of the lowest student achievement rates AND most of them don’t offer recess, doesn’t it seem like you might want to offer them recess? All work all the time is clearly not benefitting the students.

So, besides what Ms. Kelley made so clear, there are a number of other benefits to recess—benefits that these students are being denied. In an article from Parenting.com, the author cited a multi-center study that looked at more than 11,000 eight and nine-year olds. The study, headed up by pediatric researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City revealed that the kids who had at least 15 minutes of recess a day were better behaved in class. And, “according to study author and developmental pediatrician Romina Barros, M.D., their conduct was likely better because, after hours of concentration, they were able to give their exhausted brains a rest before going back to absorbing information–something many young kids can only do well for about a half hour at a time.”

An article on the website for Robert Wood Johnson Foundation also points to the importance of physical activity through recess. The troubling finding uncovered by the article is how many organizations point out the importance of physical activity from physical education and regular recess for school-aged children, yet most states and schools do not require it.

In addition the article from RWJF also cited the Healthy People 2020 objectives released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services which presented findings from several research studies. The findings suggested the following:

-        Providing recess breaks throughout the day can improve students’ classroom behavior and attentiveness.

-        Children can accumulate up to 40 percent of their total daily physical activity during recess.

-        The number of school districts that require or recommend daily recess may be decreasing.

-        Children at high risk for obesity are least likely to have recess.

As a parent of young children, my instinct tells me that kids need time on the playground—time away from their desks. The teachers need breaks, too. How often do people in business or at jobs work straight through without breaks—whether it’s simply to get up and walk around, or stop by a co-worker’s desk for a chat. We are asking our children to sit like little robots all day, and only let them break for lunch. I find that ridiculous at best, and quite frankly, heartless. It’s bad enough that we push academics at the cost of childhood. When do kids get to be kids, if not at recess? When do they get to form friendships at school, if not at recess? When do kids get to play anymore? As a parent, I pledge to fight as hard as necessary to make sure no one robs my children of recess. I hope other parents will do the same.

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