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5 Reasons Kids Need Longer Recess at School

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Why pediatricians say kids' need longer recess at school

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) highlights the importance of recess for school kids that is just as important as learning math or the alphabet. One reason, according to the experts is that socialization that comes from play fosters skills that are just downright important for becoming happy healthy adults. The group is advocating for longer recess periods, and for good reasons.

There has been a huge focus on rates of childhood obesity also. Without adequate time for play, the problem is likely to continue to escalate. Providing ample time for recess during school hours helps kids learn which physical activities they enjoy and what they excel at, giving them tools for life.

An effort to cram in more academic hours is cited for shorter recess time, But the AAP warns it’s not a good idea and may even backfire. Unstructured play time –indoors or out – helps boost cognitive performance and increases memory.

The AAP also warns taking away recess as punishment can have a deleterious impact that could interfere with childhood development.

Five reasons recess is important

• Play helps children develop physical skills
• Interacting with others fosters better social skills
• Play or just quiet time can boost intellectual capacity
• Children become more morally conscious when they interact with other children
• Better classroom behavior

The statement from the AAP is published in the January issue of the journal Pediatrics and is based on multiple studies showing recess in school is ‘crucial’. It also stems from concerns that academic institutions are showing a trend toward shortening supervised breaks from the classroom.

The authors write: “A growing trend toward reallocating time in school to accentuate the more academic subjects has put this important facet of a child’s school day at risk.”

A 2009 study not only highlighted the growing trend of shorter recess time that was found to be as little as 15-minutes, but is also revealed 8 to 9 years olds given longer breaks from the classroom behaved better in the classroom.

In a review of the benefits of recess, Kara Tice, Metropolitan State College of Denver, notes studies that support increased attention and improvements in memory found in for both preschoolers and older children.

Extensive studies reveal playing with peers gives children a sense of belonging that could lead to positive feelings of self-worth.

Tice also cites the “Ellis theory”, developed in 1984 that states “…children will become less attentive to classroom tasks as a function of time, meaning that the tasks are no longer novel, or interesting. Playing offers a novel opportunity for children to get involved in something different and free them to return to their work with it being novel again.”

Quality is important

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A Stanford University study also highlights how important it is to ensure kids have quality recess time that can mean less bullying and lower conflict among students, especially found in low-income elementary schools.

But perhaps schools are leaning toward shorter recess because they view recess as a liability.

The dark side of school recess

Playworks.org is committed to making child’s play healthy. They also explain there’s a dark side to recess that makes it important for adult supervision and coaching.

Playworks offer coaches to help ensure ”… the problems from the playground spill [won’t] spill over into the classroom, eating into precious instruction time” - problems like bullying, injuries and teasing that can lead to school suspensions.

Their work was highlighted in a New York Times blog opinion post published last year by David Bornstein, author of “How to Change the World”,

Recess shouldn’t be viewed as a liability, Bornstein said. He suggests schools can learn much by viewing schoolyard play as an opportunity instead of a liability.

“Do you know how hard it is to get kids to exercise for 60 minutes a day?” explains Jill Vialet, the founder of Playworks. “Do you know how easy it is to get kids to play for 60 minutes a day?” She adds: “Kids are desperate to be taught ways to get along with each other and be successful in play and school. It hasn’t been taught.”

As a parent, the new statement from Pediatric experts should get your attention. When you’re choosing a school, ask about how long children are given for recess.

If you’re a school administrator, it’s also important to take note of the new AAP recommendation. Look at recess as an opportunity to identify students who bully others.

Partner with agencies with coaches who can teach and help faculty understand how and when to intervene. If you have a school recess success story, or other thoughts, feel free to share it in the comment section.


“Bully-Proofing Playgrounds During School Recess”

Updated: February 8, 2017

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