IN Defense of Recess

In many schools around the country, recess is under attack. The focus of the U.S. school system on standardized testing means that the parts of the school day that don't directly and clearly improve scores are now vulnerable. Yet recess has been shown to have major positive effects on students, in terms of both their ability to learn and their health.

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Recess Under Fire

Students in the U.S. are performing behind their peers in other countries. The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) released a report with gloomy statistics for the U.S. in late 2010. Of the 34 countries in the study, U.S. students ranked 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in math. While these rankings are a slight improvement over previous studies, there is still a long way to go before the U.S. is a leader in education.

In many school districts, recess is targeted as a frivolous and expendable part of the school day. By cutting recess, it's often argued, students will have more time to devote to their studies, thereby improving grades and raising test scores. According to a 2006 report by the National Center for Education Statistics, 7%-13% of public elementary school students have no scheduled recess. There is also a direct correlation between the percentage of low-income students in a school and the amount of scheduled recess. Schools with 75% or more low-income students have just 21 minutes of recess on average, compared to 31.8 minutes for schools with low-income students comprising less than 34% of their population.

recess schoolyard physical activity healthy children

Recess for Learning

While recess may seem like an easy target, there are countless theories that support its educational benefits. The Surplus Energy Theory, for example, posits that sitting for extended periods of time causes children to build up surplus energy. This leads to a loss of focus, restlessness and acting out. Recess provides an opportunity to release this pent-up energy, leaving children better prepared to concentrate and learn.

In addition to preparing students for learning, recess also plays a key role in children's development; educational theorists have recognized these benefits for well over 100 years. Recess provides children with the opportunity to interact socially in an unstructured environment. This leads to emotional and social development in areas including conflict resolution, communication, sharing and problem-solving.

Recess for Health

In an era when obesity is a nationwide epidemic, recess provides an excellent opportunity for physical activity. While physical education classes offer structured exercise time, recess offers unstructured exercise time. Together, the two provide children with the chance for extended and balanced activity, including vital time outdoors with fresh air and sunshine.

A Place for Recess

Recess suffers from the indirect nature in which it benefits children. There are no standardized tests in recess or physical games. Recess doesn't explicitly raise a school's test scores. Yet the perception of recess as expendable is misguided. Finding a place for recess in the school day results in more attentive, better developed and healthier children.

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