As schools look for ways to fit ever more academic material into the day, many have been cutting down on recess or eliminating it entirely. A 2011 survey of 1,800 elementary schools found that about a third were no longer offering recess to their third-graders.
The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly disagrees with this trend. In a just-published article, they explain that recess is so important that it shouldn't even be taken away from school children as a punishment, much less as part of a policy to increase the academic content of the school day. The physical, mental and social benefits of recess are far too important for that.
Recess also seems to help cement the knowledge that teachers have been trying to communicate. Just as with adults, attention spans begin to wane after 40-50 minutes. In Japan, schoolchildren are given a 10-15 minute break every hour.
When school is in session, children spend nearly half their waking time there. Recess is their only personal time during the school day, a time when they can do as they please. And whether they choose to play, socialize or just to exercise their imagination, children learn valuable skills such as negotiation, cooperation, problem solving, perseverance and self-control during recess.
Way before there was Facebook, there was recess. It's where children first learn and test out many of their social skills. Just imagine where Hilary Clinton, Barack Obama or Bill Gates might be without recess.
Some schools have been switching to a more structured recess, such as recess where the children play games led by adults. While certainly better than no recess at all, this doesn't give the same benefits that traditional recess does because it isn't free time for the children.
Though recess has traditionally been given right after lunch, this often causes students to rush through their lunch too quickly and waste food in the process. That's one reason why both the Department of Agriculture and the CDC favor giving recess before lunch. But that's a detail for the experts to argue over. What's most important is that recess continue to be a part of every child's school day.
The Crucial Role of Recess in School appears in the January 2013 issue of Pediatrics and is freely available.