Add recess to reading, writing and arithmetic says a report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP.) The pediatricians believe that recess can be as important to a child’s overall development as standard classes and should never be denied, especially as a punishment.
"We consider it essentially the child's personal time and don't feel it should be taken away for academic or punitive reasons," said Dr. Robert Murray, who co-authored the new policy statement for the AAP.
According to the authors, recess is a “crucial and necessary component of a child’s development.”
Other reasons given for the importance of recess are that it helps students develop better communication skills, counteracts the time sitting in classrooms, and may foster skills such as cooperation and sharing - all good things.
The authors noted that previous research has found that children are able to pay closer attention and perform tasks better after a recess break. A year ago, 14 studies were reviewed and researchers found that kids who get more exercise do better in school. Recess and sports related activities offer children the opportunity to exercise and burn off excess energy. They also get a chance to recharge their brains and bodies.
Other organizations have recommended that children need recess as well. The American Heart Association and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CPSC) both call for schools to offer recess to kids. You might think that recess in schools is a given, but in a 2011 survey of 1,800 elementary schools, researchers discovered that a third of the schools did not offer recess to their third-graders. However, most schools do offer recess of between 15 and 30 minutes once or twice a day.
Is there a particular time of day that helps kids most? Before lunch seems to be the consensus from government agencies, CPSC and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Previous studies have found that children waste less food and behave better for the rest of the day when their recess is before their scheduled lunch, the pediatricians' statement notes.
They also agree that PE should not be substituted for recess. "Those are completely different things and they offer completely different outcomes," said Murray. "(Physical education teachers are) trying to teach motor skills and the ability of those children to use those skills in a bunch of different scenarios. Recess is a child's free time."
Free time means no structured activities by adults such as games. "I think it becomes structured to the point where you lose some of those developmental and social emotion benefits of free play," said Murray.
"This is a very important and overlooked time of day for the child and we should not lose sight of the fact that it has very important benefits," he added.
I remember recess fondly. A group of friends would gather and run from one end of the schoolyard to the other at full gallop. The first one back would win the honor of becoming the “lead horse.” Yes, in our recess fantasy we were a heard of horses – whinnying and throwing our heads around (showing off our glorious manes.)
It was fun and exhilarating as we trotted around strutting our stuff.
Recess isn’t only important because it breaks up the monotony of sitting, studying and listening, it can also spark the imagination!