Scientists argue recess is one of the most important aspects of the day for school-age children as it allows them to expend energy, exercise, develop crucial social skills and simply be children.
However, as educational requirements become more stringent, schools systems are starting to reduce playtime, use it for physical education or cut it out entirely – posing what some experts say means dire consequences for young students.
A Stanford study found that a positive atmosphere at school is strongly linked to numerous benefits for students ranging from academic performance to self-esteem.
Recess provides numerous benefits for children
A positive school environment includes “four key elements for students – physical and emotional safety at school; positive relationships with peers and adults; support for learning; and an institutional environment that fosters school connectedness and engagement.”
Recess or unstructured playtime facilitates all four elements, which is why some elementary schools in Texas are returning to recess. Beginning this fall, all elementary students in the Austin school district will receive 30 minutes of unstructured playtime each day during recess.
The plan is part of a new coordinated effort by school administrators to reintroduce what never should have been taken away in the first place.
Previously, unstructured playtime was eliminated entirely from the day for some elementary children, while others had reduced it to 20 minutes in order to meet academic goals. Some districts in Central Texas replaced recess with PE where teachers required students to run laps or play games.
Austin reintroduces recess beginning this fall
But the new plan mandates that students receive 30 minutes of free play every day, and it cannot be withheld as punishment, The Austin American-Statesman reported. The decision to bring back recess for elementary school children is supported by studies, such as the one published by Stanford highlighting the undeniable benefits.
“Because recess offers opportunities for both positive play and experience in learning how to resolve conflicts, it can have powerful implications for a child’s education,” said Milbrey McLaughlin, the David Jacks Professor of Education and Public Policy, Emerita, founding director of Stanford’s John W. Gardner Center.
“Less bullying among students was found for schools with high-quality recess programs as compared to those with low-quality recess. And student-to-student conflict was lessened,” the study found.
A 2013 study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that playtime “serves as a necessary break from the rigors of concentrated, academic challenges in the classroom.” Allowing children to have recess improves cognitive and academic abilities and social, emotional and physical benefits.
The connection between playtime and child obesity
While all of these are important, the benefits drawn from physical activity meet a particular need that’s front and center in the United States: childhood obesity. One in six children in the U.S. is now obese, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This means that nearly 18 million children aged 2-19 are obese, which significantly increases the risk for numerous health problems including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, respiratory issues, asthma, fatty liver disease and psychological stress and depression.
Because recess has such a positive impact on obesity, school administrators are finally recognizing the need reintroduce playtime into the classroom (or outside).