Research Shows Why Kids Need Recess

He forgot to write his name on his paper. It wasn’t the first time, and unfortunately, I knew it wouldn’t be the last. While he was smart, a great student with good grades, considered gifted actually, his ability to forget menial tasks was uncanny. I struggled with it both at home and in school. He never forgot a project or an assignment, but his name at the top of the paper? Well, remembering that was somewhere on his priority list with all the sweatshirts and water bottles that have never returned home.

Daily Mom Parents Portal Why Kids Need Recess

Long ago, before public school and ‘one-to-one’ tech learning, he was also a very active kid. He loved to run and play outdoors, jumping on the trampoline until the sun went down, searching for grasshoppers before it came back up, and wrestling with his brothers in between. He was happy, he was healthy, and he was fit.

Now? Well, now we fight the same battle as all modern day parents – the battle against the tablet (insert phone, computer, gaming system). Just as with all other children his age, technology and electronics have taken over his ever so pliable brain. And not in a good way. We struggle with limiting the amount of time he is allowed on these devices because not only is it where he turns for entertainment, but it is where most classwork, homework, and testing are done. It is a constant source of discontent in our house because while we limit it, he still has to have some access for educational purposes, much to my chagrin.

As parents, reluctantly accepting that our school system in this country is dysfunctional and does not have the best interests of our children at its core, we must, at a minimum, fight for our children’s sanity, physical health, and well-being. While I absolutely believe we have good teachers out there who also feel stuck within our antiquated, cookie cutter, one-size-fits-all (when it absolutely does not) educational approach, some still believe in an ineffective disciplinary approach to classroom participation and behavior, rather than redirection and personalized learning. That said, here is why I will fight as a mother (and as a lawyer) against the punishment of making a child sit out at recess because it is unacceptable and ineffective.

Why Kids Need Recess: The Health Reasons

With widespread research available addressing both the short and long-term benefits of recess for children’s physical health and well-being, it is inconceivable why our school system has ever withheld recess or continues to do so as a punishment. Recess is the only period of free, unstructured play children receive during the school day. In a society full of obese, overweight, unhealthy, individuals constantly plagued with illness and disease, associated in large part with their sedentary lifestyle, WHY is this how we are training our children?

Daily Mom Parents Portal Why Kids Need Recess

The American Academy of Pediatrics, along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention all agree that recess should be part of a child’s day in order to establish an active lifestyle and healthy habits. Some children love to be outdoors and enjoy free play, while others need to learn to do so because of the long-term health benefits to the body of outdoor, active “play.” Children’s playtime turns into adult exercise time, and both are a necessity for physical health and wellness. 

Daily Mom Parents Portal Why Kids Need Recess

It is recommended that children participate in at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity every day. According to a 2013 AAP policy statement, “Recess is a necessary break in the day for optimizing a child’s social, emotional, physical, and cognitive development…recess should be considered a child’s personal time, and it should not be withheld for academic or punitive reasons.”

Physical Benefits of Recess include:

Why Kids Need Recess: Academic Performance & Achievement 

The benefits of recess to our school-aged children go well beyond simply their physical health, and significantly affect their behavior and performance in the classroom as well. While historically recess upwards of 50 minutes was the norm, with the increase in standardized testing and academic performance requirements recess was slowly whittled away throughout the country. Those enacting these reduced recess times were rarely educators in the classrooms, and interestingly enough are of the age that they likely received lengthy recess times during their elementary age school days.

Where recess was being reduced it was usually in favor of more classroom time spent on language arts or math in order to improve a school’s testing scores – usually the measurement by which a school’s funding is allocated. However, rather than improving student outcomes, this dismissal of recess as a necessary component of a child’s health and development simply led to the increase in behavior problems in the classroom. In light of these negative statistics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that they found “substantial evidence that physical activity can improve academic achievement, including grades and standardized test scores.”

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Young boys, in particular, are significantly more affected by reduced recess times, academically and behaviorally, than girls. While lengthier sedentary periods did not seem to negatively affect girls academically, boys had significantly reduced scores in both reading and math that continued to impact their grades and performance for years. As any parent of young boys knows, sitting still is not something they are usually very good at. When allowed to get out and play for even just 15 minutes at a time, boys concentration and behavior improved dramatically. Common sense alone should tell you that taking recess away from a child who is already having trouble concentrating or sitting still is an ineffective, unfair, and improper punishment. Permitting an active child to instead exert that extra energy will improve his or her outcomes dramatically.

Withholding recess is an ineffective punishment that has been proven time and again to NOT work, yet teachers still insist on using this ‘time out’ method of discipline rather than redirection or free play. Expecting our young children to sit still, indoors, for upwards of 6 hours a day is nothing short of cruel, not to mention senseless. Knowing that obesity, ADHD, and a whole host of other illnesses related to our overindulgent, sedentary lives are literally public health concerns of epidemic proportions at this time should force us as parents to demand change.

Teachers, administrators, legislators, stop bullying our children to fit a mold, stop forcing students to perform like automatons, stop teaching like this is a factory line where every child should be the same. Broaden your horizons, teach to the student, not the test, encourage imagination, creativity, and free play, and put value and respect back into our educational system. Our children are our future, and I for one certainly hope they do better than we are because let’s be honest, we adults are failing them miserably right now.

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Time, American Academy of Pediatrics, ScienceDirect, Medical Daily, Pathways to Family Wellness, NCB

You might also like: The Importance of Physical Play.

Daily Mom Parents Portal Why Kids Need Recess



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Kristin dePaula
Kristin dePaula
Kristin is a Montessori Mama who spends her days working as a lawyer with at-risk youth and her nights chasing her 4 boys on their latest adventure. She spends a significant amount of time in the kitchen creating healthy, organic, and delicious meals for her family, reading books with her boys, and at the soccer fields. Aspiring to make a difference in lives of others one child at a time, Kristin is passionate about social justice, early literacy, and early childhood education. While she loves scarves and boots, Kristin lives at the world's most famous beach with her husband, kids, extended family, and enough pets to open a zoo.

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