Who Needs Recess? - September 21, 2016

news article image for kids playing at recess

Sarah has missed recess for the past two days because she hasn’t met her weekly number of independent reading points. Timmy’s teacher has kept him in during recess because he was consistently out of his seat. Aaron missed three days of recess in a week because he did not complete his assignments. Students who misbehave are often punished by having to stay inside at recess. Withholding recess as a punishment for incomplete work or due to misbehavior punishes both the child and the teacher. A few experts have even gone as far as to call removing recess as a type of “torture” for a student with ADHD. Pellegrini and Smith (1993) define recess as “ a break period, typically outdoors, for children.” Compared to the rest of the school day, recess is a time when children have more freedom to choose what they want to do and with whom.

How important is recess? Is it just a time for students to use the bathroom, run wild, and get a drink? Does recess simply give the teacher time to regroup and take a breath? Recess is a critical time for children in the elementary setting for their social development. It is a necessary opportunity for them to independently organize each other for group games, problem solve, use critical thinking skills, interact with playground equipment, practice cultural clapping games, make up rhyming jump rope sequences, explore nature, and talk with their peers. Another benefit of recess, not to be overlooked, is its implications on fighting childhood obesity. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, “recess helps children meet the goal of 60 minutes of physical activity each day.” To read the complete article on Supporting Recess in Elementary Schools click here: US Department of Health and Human Services

Recess shouldn’t have to be earned. It is a crucial component of social and physical development for all children and especially significant for students with disabilities. Students with or without ADHD show improved attention, working memory, and mood after physical activity. Many studies have been done to show that recess actually contributes positively to the academic and behavioral performance of children (Toppino, Kasserman & Mracek, 1991). In a policy statement from 2012, The American Academy of Pediatrics believes that recess is a crucial and necessary component of a child’s development.

Rather than withholding recess as a punitive act, here are some positive ideas you can implement immediately for children who not only need recess, but also more frequent breaks to maintain attention and focus until the bell rings:

  • Give frequent activity breaks (3 to 5 minutes) after sustained academic instruction or tasks. This can be as easy as jumping jacks or stretching activities.

  • For students who have difficulty transitioning back to academics from recess; assign a job to be completed when they return from recess. Place a note in an envelope and have them deliver it to a neighboring teacher or to the office. This will give the student something to look forward to when coming back from recess and make them feel important.

Given all the available research and evidence on this topic, it is safe to say that recess for all is necessary for children’s learning, social development and health.

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Pellegrini, A. D., & Smith, P. K. (1998). Physical activity play: The nature and function of a neglected aspect of play. CHILD DEVELOPMENT, 69(3), 577-598. EJ 569 149.

Toppino, T. C., Kasserman, J. E., & Mracek, W. A. (1991). The effect of spacing repetitions on the recognition memory of young children and adults. JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL CHILD PSYCHOLOGY, 51(1), 123-138. EJ 429 022.