Since the implementation of the Common Core State Standards—and its precursor, the 2001 No Child Left Behind law—schools have focused on meeting rigid standards and preparing students for standardized tests. With school test scores being held up to scrutiny (and in some cases affecting teacher jobs or the threat of being put on the “watch list”), a lot of emphasis is put on preparing students for those tests. In many cases, this has resulted in schools eliminating recess in order to squeeze in more teaching time.
When Atlanta elementary schools replaced recess with more instructional time, the superintendent was quoted as saying, “We are intent on improving academic performance. You don’t do that by having kids hanging from monkey bars.” (source)
Hanging from monkey bars is one of my daughter’s favorite parts of the school day. We hear detailed accounts at dinner of the games she and her friends play during recess. And this does not mean she is not learning; rather the outside time oxygenates her brain, making it easier for her to pay attention in class afterward.
Across the country, parents are in an uproar over disappearing recesses. Not only does the focus on test performance levels increase students’ anxiety and stress, but now they have no outlet during their school day for releasing that stress. Stated more simply: Kids need to play.
Benefits of Recess
Eliminating recess to improve academic performance is, ironically, having the opposite effect. Research shows that students actually perform better on days when they have recess. Outdoor activity leads them to be more focused and better behaved in class.
This school in Fort Worth, Texas now opens its doors for the kids four times a day. The result? Students are less fidgety and more focused in the classroom.
Studies have shown that:
- Breaks are beneficial. Children’s bodies and minds need time to rest and recharge, especially in the middle of a six-to-seven-hour school day. Research shows that people work more effectively when their day is peppered with breaks.
- Recess provides social interaction, creativity and exploration, all of which are vital for child development. Sometimes recess is the only time during the day when kids can really interact with one another, and this exemplifies a different level of of learning: how to communicate with your peers.
- Recess, especially when it occurs outside, reduces stress. Children get to expend their excess energy, express themselves, and exert control of their world (e.g.: games of imaginative play) in ways they cannot while in the classroom. Fresh air and sunlight improve wellness and can even provoke increased productivity.
- With childhood obesity on the rise, kids need more physical activity, not less of it. Recess provides an opportunity for movement during peak times of the day.
What You Can Do
Is recess being reduced in your child’s school? Garner support in your community. This flyer from the CDC lists actions you can take to support recess on the state and school levels.
In my state of Rhode Island, a group of individuals and organizations have started Recess for Rhode Island to advocate for a statewide public school recess policy of at least 20 minutes every day.