When I was a kid, we had recess before school, at some point in the mid-morning, and again after lunch. Do you remember those days of playing four-square and kickball on the blacktop? I sure do! Many elementary schools across the nation are cutting out recess, however. In my town, the goal is to let the kids play outside twice per week after lunch, for 15 minutes each time. On the other days, they go from lunch directly back in for math, science or reading work.
People from pediatricians, nutritionists and child development experts, to teachers, lunch ladies and parents, however, disagree with the movement. Recess has many benefits that go beyond an extra half hour or math worksheets or phonics practice. Here are a few of them:
- Recess gets kids in the habit of being physically active. With the obesity rates what they are, encouraging a healthy lifestyle, which includes daily exercise, is vital. Kids need to be running around for at least an hour per day, says the CDC. If they’re spending seven hours in school, then at least part of that should come during the school day, particularly this time of year, when it’s getting dark so early in many areas.
- Recess helps kids concentrate during the times that they are in their seats. It can reduce the amount of time that they spend fidgeting and moving around restlessly. Think about it: Even adults need to get up and stretch their legs during the course of a work day. Kids need this even more than we do!
- A change of scenery can help kids regroup. After a difficult morning of lessons, some kick-back time playing with friends might be just what they need in order to get refreshed for learning in the afternoon.
- Recess gives kids time to socialize. When they’re in the classroom, the kids might interact with one another, but it’s usually in a very controlled environment, and conversation topics are supposed to be limited to the lesson or theme. Recess allows kids to be kids and to talk to their friends about whatever is on their minds. It’s also a time when there is less adult interference (although of course the children are supervised), so they are able to begin to work through problems on their own.
If your school has eliminated or reduced recess, or if kids lose recess based on their behavior (a practice that many disagree with; the kids who are acting out in class are probably the ones for whom a break to run around would be most effective!), what can you do? Try signing them up for physical after school activities, such as dance, martial arts or sports. You can also impose a mandatory “recess” of your own after school: Let them have a snack, then send them out to play. Go for a family walk after dinner, or give your kids the job of walking the dog. You can also try to integrate more physical activities into your weekends to make up the difference.
Does your child have recess at school? If not, how do you compensate for the loss of physical activity?