Recess has always been a part of the school, but there has been a growing trend in recent years in reducing recess time and reallocating time to learning and academic subjects. We, as adults, sometimes even have a nagging sense that recess is a privilege for children at school.
However, researchers and teachers alike report that when recess is taken away, there is an increase in behavioral problems and anxiety observed in children. The heightened expectations and loss of playtime at school are to blame for this. Often, children who lose physical activity or are punished during recess time are the ones who need it most, and it can have a snowball effect. The American Academy of Pediatrics believe that recess is a crucial and necessary component of a child’s development, and it should not be withheld for punitive or academic reasons.
Studies show that recess plays an essential role in promoting the optimal development of the whole child and taking recess time away puts this vital facet of a child’s school day at risk. Recess serves as a necessary break from the rigours of concentrated academic challenges in the classroom. However, equally important is that safe and well-supervised recess offers cognitive, social, emotional, and physical benefits that may not be fully appreciated when a decision is made to diminish it.
Children learn valuable communication skills through play at recess, including negotiation, cooperation, sharing, problem-solving, and coping skills, such as perseverance and self-control. These skills become fundamental, lifelong personal tools. Recess offers children a necessary, socially structured means for managing stress.
There is a wealth of literature published on the need for and benefit of recess, not only for a child’s physical well-being but also for their academic and social maturation. Although not all children play vigorously at recess, it provides the opportunity for children to be active in their chosen mode and practice movement and motor skills. Importantly, recess affords young children free activity for the sheer joy of it.
While play has always been an essential part of childhood, when teachers prioritize incorporating intentional play to promote social and emotional development, children learn to work with others, take turns, manage impulses. Play is foundational for child development and can also help children process and heal from the impact of living through stress, trauma, or grief, including a global pandemic.
The benefits of a break in the school day extend beyond the value of the time outside. A 2014 study of more than 200 elementary students found that physical activity improved students’ fitness and brain function, enhancing their accuracy and reaction time in mental tasks. Other studies have concluded that children who have unstructured time during the school day exhibit greater creativity and problem-solving skills, are less disruptive, and learn crucial social lessons like resolving disputes and forming cooperative relationships. Studies show that unstructured playtime is crucial to development, benefiting physical health and improving cognitive faculties not generally associated with play, including focus and recall.
Schools that give longer breaks to students report improvement in their creative writing, fine motor skills, body mass index and attention in the classroom. Embracing recess and giving children back their critical free time is a benefit and not a detriment. It is hard for children to sit for long periods and taking a break during recess helps them remain focused. They are ready to settle down and learn, making school fun. Recess should never be withheld as punishment and is not a luxury for children but is crucial for their learning and growth.