On Recess and Play

Recess and play are necessary. Provide students with Space, Trust, Time, and Loose Parts.

Recess serves as a necessary break from the rigors of concentrated, academic challenges in the classroom. But equally important is the fact 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. Recess is unique from, and a complement to, physical education—not a substitute for it. The American Academy of Pediatrics believes that recess is a crucial and necessary component of a child’s development and, as such, it should not be withheld for punitive or academic reasons.

Recess is a necessary break in the day for optimizing a child’s social, emotional, physical, and cognitive development. In essence, recess should be considered a child’s personal time, and it should not be withheld for academic or punitive reasons.

Cognitive processing and academic performance depend on regular breaks from concentrated classroom work. This applies equally to adolescents and to younger children. To be effective, the frequency and duration of breaks should be sufficient to allow the student to mentally decompress

Ironically, minimizing or eliminating recess may be counterproductive to academic achievement, as a growing body of evidence suggests that recess promotes not only physical health and social development but also cognitive performance.10,37 Although recess and physical education both promote activity and a healthy lifestyle, it is only supervised but unstructured recess that offers children the opportunity to actually play creatively. In this sense, then, pediatricians’ support of recess is an extension of the AAP’s policy statement supporting free play as a fundamental component of a child’s normal growth and development.16 On the basis of an abundance of scientific studies, withholding recess for punitive or academic reasons would seem to be counterproductive to the intended outcomes and may have unintended consequences in relation to a child’s acquisition of important life skills.

Source: The Crucial Role of Recess in School

Results from this study add to a growing body of research demonstrating the benefits of physical activity in promoting academic success and shed new light on the need to allow time for recess during the school day. Moreover, this study connects the concept of active play with embodied cognition, self-regulation, and academic achievement by showing that higher levels of active play positively predict self-regulation scores and early math and literacy skills. Results suggest that active play may have a positive indirect effect on academic achievement by promoting behavioral self-regulation and highlight the advantage of allowing time for recess during the school day. Overall, this study underscores the importance of promoting early physical activity in children by demonstrating that active play is linked to the self-regulatory skills that predict academic success.

Source: Physical Activity, Self-Regulation, and Early Academic Achievement in Preschool Children

Students with ADHD experience reduced symptoms when they engage in physical exercise (Pontifex et al., 2012) — ironic given that students with ADHD are probably among the most likely to have their recess taken away.

Source: What Doesn’t Work: Literacy Practices We Should Abandon

The effect of recess scheduling on the students in my class were both interesting and obvious. More on-task behaviour was exhibited when recess was offered before mathematics, followed by recess after-mathematics, and lastly the traditional recess scheduled at the end of the day. When students are more on-task, more learning takes place. With this in mind, the results of this study suggest that scheduling recess breaks directly before or after an academic lesson promotes greater on-task behaviours during independent practice sessions.

The results of this study are also consistent with Pellegrini and Bjorklund’s (1997) research that suggests that distributed practice has a positive effect on student attention during school tasks. Jarrett and colleagues (1998) also suggested that instructional time without periodic breaks may be an inefficient use of precious instructional time. This creates a strong argument in favor of recess breaks scheduled strategically throughout the school day with the intent of promoting greater on-task behaviours and, in turn, greater retention of academic material.

Source: Give Me A Break! Can Strategic Recess Scheduling Increase On-Task Behaviour For First Graders?

The mother goes on to explain how her son comes home every day with a yellow smiley face. The rest of his class goes home with green smiley faces for good behavior. Every day this child is reminded that his behavior is unacceptable, simply because he can’t sit still for long periods of time.

The mother starts crying. “He is starting to say things like, ‘I hate myself’ and ‘I’m no good at anything.’” This young boy’s self-esteem is plummeting all because he needs to move more often.

Source: Why so many kids can’t sit still in school today

What if we took a totally different approach to recess instead? A therapeutic approach that values the needs of the whole child and views recess as a form of prevention instead of simply time to get “energy out.” What if we let children fully move their bodies during recess time, let them get dirty, and even test out new theories? What would recess look like then?

When the rules left, so did their “behavior issues.” He saw more independence, improved creativity, healthy risk-taking, less falling, better coordination, and improved attention in the classroom.

A recipe that will transform a recess session from one that gets children “wired” and hard to transition back to learning – to one that leaves them grounded and inspired. They are:

  1. Space
  2. Trust
  3. Time
  4. Loose Parts

By having the adults not take “center-stage,” children are more likely to come up with their own ideas and problem solve independently.

Children need lengthier recess sessions in order to reap the full benefits from the play session. They need ample time to move their body, to explore, to tinker, to problem-solve, to work through their emotions, and to dive deep into their imaginations. Short fifteen to twenty-minute recess sessions, often interrupt the children just as they are about to figure out who and what they are going to play.

Source: How schools ruined recess — and four things needed to fix it – The Washington Post

It’s helping kids learn how to socialize, how to take turns, how to be able to wait, how to be able to compete without killing each other. It’s all the things that one learns from play. Sometimes it’s easier to learn those things from play than from reading a rule book and being told what to do.

“If you’re going to ask them to decode letters and to add numerals, they need a brain break between those to operate at full brain capacity,” Comfort said. “Recess isn’t just to fight obesity or get kids moving. It’s not just to develop their social-emotional skills. It’s also critically necessary if you’re going to have success in the classroom.“

“They are under adult direction all day long. Recess should be a time when they’re independent and able to draw on their own resources,”

Source: Playworks coaches help put the fun back in recess at 14 D.C. schools

Schools, she said, need to have clear policies around recess and refrain from tying it to discipline. “It’s not appropriate to use [taking recess away] as a bargaining chip for behavior,” she said. Nor is it appropriate to assign laps as punishment. “We don’t want to associate physical activity with punishment,” she said.

Source: Students Who Play Do Better in School – The Atlantic

“If you want a child to be attentive and stay on task, and also if you want them to encode the information you’re giving them in their memory, you’ve got to give them regular breaks,” says Ohio State University pediatrician Bob Murray.

Source: Turns Out Monkey Bars And Kickball Might Be Good For The Brain : NPR Ed : NPR

Recess also plays an important role in the ability to maintain self-control during class time. Self-control is not an unlimited resource, and by the time unstructured play rolls around, most children have depleted their reserves. They have had to resist the temptation to wiggle, eat the piece of cookie someone left on the carpet or talk to their friends in favor of focusing on math facts.

Recess provides an opportunity to refill children’s reserves of self-control through play and expression that’s free from structure, rules, and rigorous cognitive tasks. The pediatrics academy explains: “Optimal cognitive processing in a child necessitates a period of interruption after a period of concentrated instruction. The benefits of these interruptions are best served by unstructured breaks rather than by merely shifting from one cognitive task to another.” Several studies have found that students who enjoy the benefit of recess are more attentive, more productive and better able to learn when they return to the classroom from a period of free play.

Memory is also enhanced by breaks, because cognitive rest after learning new material allows that material to be retained for longer periods of time. For optimal cognitive processing and memory consolidation, therefore, children need a period of unstructured free time, even if it is simply in the form of socializing or daydreaming.

If we truly want our children to function at their academic, physical and mental best, teachers need to stop withholding recess, and schools need to protect it. Cutting into or taking away recess time is counter-intuitive and self-defeating. When we deprive our children of the cognitive rest and physical activity they need to perform at their best, teachers undermine the very education we seek to impart.

Source: Students Who Lose Recess Are the Ones Who Need It Most – The New York Times

The benefits of recess extend far beyond a child’s physical well-being. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, recess also enhances a child’s cognitive, emotional and social development. Recess promotes communication, negotiation and problem-solving skills. It also provides a way for students to vent frustrations, anxiety and even anger in an appropriate setting. Memories of playground joys and conflicts help adults recall how recess shapes the soft skills we all need. By being both unstructured and supervised, recess provides a setting for children to interact, test and develop skills that aid their overall social growth.

Source: Don’t skip school recess

Let’s face it: the current 20-minute recess sessions are not long enough. A mere 20 minutes won’t allow children to dive deep into their imaginary worlds or create elaborate play schemes. This is not enough time for children to practice effective social skills — something that’s lacking in this age of technology. And a short recess won’t let children regulate their bodies to prepare them for higher-level learning experiences.

Source: Longer Recess, Stronger Child Development

Although many educators know about the connection between learning and movement, nearly as many dismiss the connection once children get beyond 1st or 2nd grade. Yet the relationship between movement and learning is so strong that it pervades all of life—and emotions are intertwined into the mix as well. Educators generally consign movement, emotion, and thinking to separate “compartments.” Students may feel awkward if they want to express emotions or move around when teachers want them to be still and think. Teachers need to realize that what the students are experiencing is simply a healthy integration of mind and body

Source: Teaching with the Brain in Mind: Movement and Learning

Over the same decades that children’s play has been declining, childhood mental disorders have been increasing.

A decline of empathy and a rise in narcissism are exactly what we would expect to see in children who have little opportunity to play socially. Children can’t learn these social skills and values in school, because school is an authoritarian, not a democratic setting. School fosters competition, not co-operation; and children there are not free to quit when others fail to respect their needs and wishes.

You can’t teach creativity; all you can do is let it blossom, and it blossoms in play.

It’s hard to be creative when you are worried about other people’s judgments. In school, children’s activities are constantly being judged. School is a good place for learning to do just what someone else wants you to do; it’s a terrible place for practising creativity.

None of these people would have discovered their passions in a standard school, where extensive, free play does not occur. In a standard school, everyone has to do the same things as everyone else. Even those who do develop an interest in something taught in school learn to tame it because, when the bell rings, they have to move on to something else. The curriculum and timetable constrain them from pursuing any interest in a creative and personally meaningful way. Years ago, children had time outside of school to pursue interests, but today they are so busy with schoolwork and other adult-directed activities that they rarely have time and opportunity to discover and immerse themselves deeply in activities they truly enjoy.

The reason why play is such a powerful way to impart social skills is that it is voluntary.

The reason why play is such a powerful way to impart social skills is that it is voluntary.

Watch any group of children in play and you will see lots of negotiation and compromise.

The golden rule of social play is not ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ Rather, it’s something much more difficult: ‘Do unto others asthey would have you do unto them.’ To do that, you have to get into other people’s minds and see from their points of view. Children practise that all the time in social play. The equality of play is not the equality of sameness. Rather, it is the equality that comes from respecting individual differences and treating each person’s needs and wishes as equally important. That’s also, I think, the best interpretation of Thomas Jefferson’s line that all men are created equal. We’re not all equally strong, equally quick-witted, equally healthy; but we are all equally worthy of respect and of having our needs met.

In recent decades we as a society have been conducting a play-deprivation experiment with our children. Today’s children are not absolutely deprived of play as the rats and monkeys are in the animal experiments, but they are much more deprived than children were 60 years ago and much, much more than children were in hunter-gatherer societies. The results, I think, are in. Play deprivation is bad for children. Among other things, it promotes anxiety, depression, suicide, narcissism, and loss of creativity. It’s time to end the experiment.

Source: The play deficit: Children today are cossetted and pressured in equal measure. Without the freedom to play they will never grow up

Any way you slice it, playing is good for children. You don’t have to acknowledge play as an inherent right to see the concrete benefits it has for childhood development, which have been documented again and again. Children’s play is a builder of many things: cognitive development, family bonds, social skills, psychological resilience, healthy bodies.

These benefits apply to kids in relatively stable settings, as well as to those in traumatic situations. Play deprivation has been linked to reduced brain sizein Romanian orphans and to disturbed behavior in lab animals. Even on top of these biological, social, and psychological advantages, play builds toward a person’s future. Play structures can get kids to attend school, and are linked to better exam results once there.

In a paper published earlier this year, researcher Anna Beresin summarized the risks of decreasing time for play. “The dangers when play is removed include: obesity, depression, apathy, food disorders, sleep disorders, attention disorders, and lack of empathy,” she wrote. “We are literally making children ill by removing their play time.”

Source: The World Has a Playground Deficit

For further reading, see this continuously updated link log on recess and play.


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