Begin the School Year by Celebrating Recess

Happy first day of school to many students – and their families – within the Metropolitan Washington, D.C. area!

Are you celebrating the new school year by recognizing the importance of recess?

When I was a child, recess was a critical staple during the school day. Some of my fondest memories were playing tag or basketball with my buddies during our two or three recess breaks a day. Yes, I grew up having multiple play breaks throughout the school day, and I believe ALL children should have movement breaks throughout the day to help them better deal with the stress of school’s test performance focus.

It seems like many elementary schools are unfortunately forgetting to allow kids to be kids and that play is a critical part of the learning process.

I find it sad that it is national news when schools have the common sense to keep recess top-of-mind.  Although I applaud those elementary schools for their continued concern for their students’ needs, I am concerned that there’s still a national trend to eliminate recess altogether.

Eagle Mountain Elementary in Fort Worth, Texas began giving their kindergarten and first grade students two 15-minute breaks every morning and two 15-minute breaks every afternoon. They also added an extra 15 minute break in the afternoon for all other grades, making it two recess breaks instead of one. At first, teachers were worried about losing precious classroom time, but after about five months they noticed the kids were actually learning more because the extra time outside to burn off energy made them better able to focus in class.”

Additionally, congratulations to Prince William, Virginia, for recognizing the importance of recess.  When the school rings, elementary students will get twice as much exercise and unstructured time during the school day.  A new Virginia law, which went into effect on July 1, allows school systems to count recess as part of the instructional day. Until now, the law only dictated how many hours of instruction were needed, and school systems had to squeeze-in recess.  Under the new law, local school boards can include “unstructured recreational time that is intended to develop teamwork, social skills, and overall physical fitness,” for up to 15 percent of the required 680 hours of instructional time.  “We’ve long understood the benefits of exercise and unstructured activity for student learning, health, and wellbeing,” said Prince William County Schools superintendent Steve Walts. “This new law means we’re free to build those benefits into the daily instructional time that Virginia requires.”

Like I said, this should be common sense for our education systems.

A lack of recess or a physical outlet in the classroom is detrimental not only to our children’s sense of adventure, exploration and way to fend off childhood obesity while improving kids’ health, but also to their academic well-being.

The American Academy of Pediatrics agrees. In a 2013 policy statement, they stated, “Recess…should not be withheld for punitive or academic reasons.” Not for any reason.

Parents of elementary school-aged students should be concerned about the national trend to eliminate recess breaks. Recess is strongly recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Association for Sports and Physical Education and the National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education.

According to “Cutting Recess Isn’t the Answer to Higher Test Scores,” The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has stated that “recess is unique from structured physical education and is a necessary part of child development.  Research in the fields of child development and physical activity has revealed the importance of this period of socialization and play to those eager to eliminate it in favor of academics.” The benefits of recess include:

  • Cognitive and academic benefits. Unstructured free time gives children a chance to refocus and refresh between more structured learning activities. It been shown in several studies that children who are allowed this kind of break are more attentive and productive in the classroom.  A groundbreaking study using the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study data set found that children age 8 to 9 who received a daily recess of 15 minutes or more had better behavior (as assessed by teachers) than did peers who received fewer than 15 minutes of recess.
  • Social and emotional benefits. Recess is a time for children to experiment with social interactions with their peers and practice skills like conflict resolution, negotiation, self-control, and cooperation. Traditionally, recess is a time when children are able to choose their activities, socialize in their desired groups, and negotiate the structure and rules of games and activities.
  • Physical benefits. The benefits of physical activity for children are well-established in the literature, but fewer than half of children ages 6 to 11 meet the U.S. Surgeon General’s recommended 60 minutes of physical activity per day. Reductions in available recreation time in schools, including recess, is cited in the newly released F as in Fat report as a contributor to childhood obesity.  The AAP notes that even though not all children are vigorously active at recess, the provision of unstructured play does “provide the opportunity for children to be active in the mode of their choosing” and, importantly, “affords young children free activity for the sheer joy of it.”

I wholeheartedly believe that movement and exercise at recess is the key to learning. For almost 30 years, at my gym I’ve combined fitness and basic math facts to help maintain the physical fitness and cognitive abilities of my clients aged 3 – 100, and every day I see “miracles” and achievements occur.

Bringing movement into classrooms – or at least during recess – will not only increase learning, but will make classrooms healthier and happier places to learn while showcasing the importance of physical activity and leading healthy, active lifestyles to improve kids’ health.

If you’re ready to improve student fitness, self-confidence, and teamwork at your school, turn to the experts at Fitness for Health. Call (301) 231-7138 or e-mail us to learn more our recess initiatives.  We can help you create a more inclusive playground experience with our on-site recess programs, which are proven to inspire children of all abilities to play together.  Fitness for Health will work with you, your faculty or your parent group to create a totally custom program for your school’s unique needs.