Posted on

Recess enhances student success

My Opinion
Tami Silverman, Indiana Youth Institute

Complex and diverse challenges face our students, teachers and schools. While addressing and assessing student academic achievement is a top priority, student preparation for success also includes attending to their mental and physical health.
Schools are being pushed to meet testing demands. With limited time and resources available, districts may create room for academic instruction by reducing recess time. Yet, this short-term response may be creating long-term negative consequences for our students.
Recess is critical to the well-being of our children. Acknowledging its importance challenges all of us to look beyond test scores to focus on the development of the whole child.
The physical benefits of recess are well established. Recess allows students to develop large motor skills, engage in sports and increase their activity levels. Recess also encourages children to choose and vary their active pursuits. Recess directly contributes to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommended 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous daily activity.
As Dr. Gayle Gorke, executive director for Kids Kan Inc., suggests, the type of activity is less important than movement itself: ‘Just run. Just go and bounce off of something, and climb onto something.’ Whether it is four square, hopscotch, monkey bars, kickball or some other activity, the physical benefits of student play are widespread and well researched.
Yet, the benefits of recess extend far beyond a child’s physical well-being. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, recess also enhances a child’s cognitive, emotional and social development. Recess promotes communication, negotiation and problem-solving skills. It also provides a way for students to vent frustrations, anxiety and even anger in an appropriate setting.
Memories of playground joys and conflicts help adults recall how recess shapes the soft skills that all of us need. By being both unstructured and supervised, recess provides a unique setting for children to interact, test and develop interpersonal and coping skills that aid their overall social growth.
In addition to the physical and social-emotional benefits, recess also enhances academic outcomes. The AAP reports that following recess, students demonstrate increased focus and cognitive processing. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation describes it as ‘an underutilized opportunity to improve the overall learning environment in our schools.’
Playworks Indiana is a best-in-class program that works with schools to maximize the benefits of recess. Through using approach to inclusive, value-based recess, schools have decreased their reports of bullying while also generating increased student feelings of safety and security. A Stanford University study found implementation of the Playworks model resulted in schools recapturing an additional 24 hours of learning time each year. As noted by Audrey Hall, program director of Playworks Indiana, ‘That’s almost a whole week of school that they’re able to find by playing more.’
Parents, school boards and lawmakers across the country are paying attention to the benefits of recess. In June, Rhode Island enacted legislation requiring elementary schools to give children at least 20 minutes of recess each day. A Texas school district has adopted a policy providing elementary students four 15-minute recess breaks per day. Some Florida parents, calling themselves ‘recess moms,’ have created a statewide advocacy network aimed at working with school districts and legislators to protect and increase school recess.
School recess is a sound investment of time that contributes to the physical, social, emotional and cognitive development of Hoosier children. The unstructured play which occurs on playgrounds throughout the state reaps lasting benefits for our kids, both in their health and in helping them build the life skills that can aid their future success.
Schools are being challenged to address issues, such as depression, violence and obesity, which go far beyond classroom learning. Recess is serious educational strategy, and we should all support its critical role in developing well-rounded, thoughtful, successful kids.
Editor’s note: Tami Silverman is the president and CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. She may be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter at @Tami_IYI.