Just like my young friends in this video, recess was not only my favorite part of the school day when I was in elementary school-it was essential! Do you remember the rush of excitement that bubbled inside of you when it was time to hit the playground? It was awesome! It seems, though, that over the years playtime has been steadily dwindling. With new standards and expectations imposed on public schools, many are cutting back on recess to provide more time for students to learn in the classroom.
Some teachers enjoy having more time during the day to cover important curriculum, and many report that their students are still able to focus even without recess. And fewer fights and injuries on the playground have certainly pleased some parents. However, other parents and numerous child development experts agree that recess is essential for children’s development. Studies show that recess time benefits every aspect of their development, including social, emotional, cognitive, and physical. Despite this convincing evidence, 40 percent of American public schools do not provide recess time for their students. So the question remains, do kids really need recess?
I have very strong opinions about this issue, and honestly, I do not believe it is a matter of opinion. There is overwhelming evidence to show that children must have sufficient time to play in order to develop properly. Child and Adolescent Development in Your Classroom, a textbook that discusses the foundations of child development, suggests some important ways that play is essential in the classroom. “Play promotes school success and achievement. It enhances cognitive development through exploration and problem solving. It fosters imagination and creativity. It also enhances social development, communication, and motor skills, such as handwriting. Students who play cooperatively are liked better by peers, which promotes liking of school and motivation in the classroom. Play is also a legitimate classroom activity because students learn through play (Bergin & Bergin, 2012).” Too many educators view playing as a disruption of students’ learning. It is not! There are so many ways play can be useful in classrooms if teachers will incorporate it into their instruction.
The textbook adds that recess does indeed help children focus better. “When students have longer periods of time before recess, their attention wanes, but immediately following recess, they are significantly more attentive (Bergin & Bergin, 2012).” I remember like it was yesterday that this was the case when I was in elementary school! And anyone who has ever been around children will understand the impossibility of teaching them when they get antsy. Even now that I’m in college, taking breaks from studying and class instruction is essential for my ability to focus.
Interestingly, some studies suggest that the rising number of children with ADHD may be due, in part, to the decreasing amount of playtime in schools. In fact, children with ADHD may need even more playtime than other children during the school day. What are we doing to our children? Furthermore, it seems that the decreasing amount of playtime in school is closely linked to a decrease in playtime outside of school. The textbook points out that “students are more likely to be driven to school rather than walk with friends…[and] they are more likely to replace neighborhood play with TV watching (Bergin & Bergin, 2012).” Schools can’t control the lack of play at home, but this natural decrease in children’s play at home should be an even greater source of motivation for schools to provide sufficient playtime during the school day.
One last point I want to make is that American public schools are nowhere near where they once were in comparison to other countries. Our schools have fallen far below their potential. I believe that the growing intolerance of playtime in school is a factor in this decline. Studies have found that countries with higher achieving students than America provide more time during school for play. For example, Finland’s education system is one of the highest-achieving in the world. Its students have 15 minutes of playtime for every 45 minutes of instruction. Asian countries, as well, provide twice as much recess time for their students than America does (Bergin & Bergin, 2012).
For me, the issue comes down to this: let kids be kids! If schools are concerned that their students are not performing well, then maybe it’s time to reevaluate the curriculum or improve the quality of teaching. Taking valuable time away from children to grow and develop through play is not the answer. It is clear to me that playtime is not only helpful for children’s social, emotional, cognitive, and physical development, it is essential! And there are so many ways that play can be used as a tool in the classroom to facilitate learning. As schools and teachers throughout America recognize this and incorporate more time in the school day for play, their students will be more successful, and America will be one step closer to reaching its potential.
What are your thoughts about providing more recess time for elementary school children? Do you support or oppose this action? Why?
Bergin, C.C. & Bergin, D.A. (2012). Child and Adolescent Development in Your Classroom. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Hayes, Lisa, Wacyk, Linda. (n.d.). Major School Issues: Do Kids Really Need Recess? http://www.eduguide.org/library/viewarticle/1512