According to study after study, recess improves a child’s school performance. The effect is not only academic; recess leads to behavioral improvements as well. Even the American Academy of Pediatrics extolled the virtues of recess in 2013, saying it was “crucial and necessary.” Unfortunately, it continues to vanish from U.S. schools as the focus on standardized testing tightens. Here’s a look at the link between recess and school performance, and how parents can help their kids get enough of this valuable time.
Link Between Recess and School Performance
Results of a study published in 2010 by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation indicated that school principals see a strong tie between recess and academic performance. A large number of the nearly 2,000 principals noticed that students were more focused in class after recess and that recess fostered socialization.
Pathways to Family Wellness also makes a strong case as to why it is wrong to deny recess to children, even for reasons including misbehavior and lateness to class. For example, recess provides a safe environment for children, especially boisterous ones, to run off excess energy. It is for this reason that attempting to punish overly active children by withholding recess often backfires.
All kids derive a physical benefit from recess that can lead to increased academic performance. For one thing, recess increases blood flow to the brain and thus serves as a type of “brain food.” For another, going outside decreases stress levels because of the relationship between sunlight and the pineal gland.
In 2015, a Texas elementary school began experimenting with giving students more recess breaks, and the results have been nothing short of amazing. Teachers have a little less instructional time, but students are more attentive and on task, having burned off excess energy at recess. Students also resolve conflicts among themselves better. Everyone is coming out ahead.
In short, the many documented benefits of recess include:
- Fewer discipline issues in class
- Improved student focus
- Unique socialization opportunities
- Increased energy and activity levels throughout the day
- Enhanced brainpower from sunlight, outdoor exposure, and blood flow to the brain
What Parents Can Do
It’s true that parents can only do only so much about their children’s schedules at traditional schools. However, there are ways that parents can help expand recess at schools or encourage schools to restart recess programs that have been eliminated. For example, they can join the PTA and help bring evidence of the benefits of recess to school administrators and school policy makers. In addition, many principals have noted that they have trouble managing recess. Parents could proactively brainstorm solutions, such as finding enough volunteers to supervise recess.
School schedules aside, there are a few things parents can do at home. For example, although some parents require that their children start and finish homework the instant they get home, many children may be better served by getting a play break to go outside (or to play inside when the weather is bad). Thirty minutes later or even an hour later, their brains are refreshed, and they can focus better on homework.
Many parents and children have benefited from the freedom that online learning provides. Students who attend online schools can schedule recess time throughout the day according to their needs. There is also the increased opportunity for field trips and other activities that get children out and about.