Final Thoughts and Actions to be Taken

I hope my posts have informed you of the trend in elementary schools of shortening and eliminating recess and the gap in the amount of time spent on recess between schools nationwide.  Here is a quick review of the most important points I have discussed in my posts:

  1. 20% of school districts have cut back recess time since No Child Left Behind, by an average of 50 minutes per week.
  2. Children who attend high-minority, high-poverty, or urban schools are far more likely than other children in different locations to get no recess at all.
  3. School administrators site the following factors as reasons for the shortening/eliminating of recess: more time for academics, liability reasons, and concern for the safety of children on the playground.
  4. There are proven cognitive, social, emotional and physical benefits of recess and free play, as well as improved classroom behavior in children.
  5. Parents are upset about the shortening of their kids’ recess and the negative affects it has on their development and success in the classroom.
  6. Some schools are hiring recess coaches as a solution to their safety concerns, however, a structured recess does not provide the same benefits to children as does unstructured play time.

What can you do to help protect recess? Here are a few ideas from Young Children that you should consider if you feel as passionate about this topic as I do.

  1. Find out whether the schools in your community have recess, and if so for how many minutes a day.  Do all the children get recess?
  2. Check school playgrounds for safety.  The National Program for Playground Safety (NPPS) has helpful online resources ( Examine the needs for supervision.
  3. Knowledge is power. Stay informed about what research says about recess. Check, the Web site of the American Affiliate of the International Play Association, promoting the Child’s Right to Play.
  4. Organize. Most changes occur because people work together.  Teachers and families often make great recess advocates. So do students. Children can collect data, write letters, and make posters.  In some schools, the efforts of children have gotten recess reinstated.
  5. Meet with principals, the school superintendent, and legislators and elected officials.  Share your knowledge, but also be a good listener.  Listening helps you learn more about the issues and also builds mutual respect.
  6. If friendly persuasion fails, advocacy can take many forms, including writing letters to the school board, writing letters to the newspaper, circulating petitions, and organizing rallies.  Advocates in several states have even introduced legislation to ensure that children statewide are guaranteed recess.

The education of our nation’s future leaders is in your hands, Arne Duncan.  I hope you see that children are humans, not just robots who need to be tested all the time, and they should be educated in all subjects.  I acknowledge that English Language Arts and Math is very important, but their creativity and imaginations need to be stimulated as well. Recess and free play have proven benefits in children’s academics, focus in the classroom, and their social and emotional development.  The leaders of our nation need to have the ability to think outside of the box and create  innovative ideas and solutions to problems.  I am concerned about the well-roundness of our nations children if this trend of shortening recess and other subjects that inspire creative thought in our elementary schools continues.  Please Secretary Duncan, make a law mandating 45 minutes of recess in all elementary schools.


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Recess Solutions

An article from March 14 in The New York Times titled “Forget Goofing Around: Recess Has a New Boss,” discusses how some elementary schools are adapting recess coaches to lead organized recess games.  Although this helps with the liability and safety concerns of recess that were causing its elimination, there are still some problems.  Dr. Romina M. Barros, an assistant clinical professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx who was an author of a widely cited study on the benefits of recess said it best, that children still benefit most from recess when they are let alone to daydream, solve problems, use their imagination to invent their own games and “be free to do what they choose to do.”

This video, “An In-Depth Look at School Recess,” is a case study of recess at an elementary school in St. Louis, Missouri.  It’s 10 minutes long, but really goes into detail about some of the reasons why school officials are against recess, and what steps can be taken to create a more successful recess for both kids and officials.

In my opinion, recess coaches are a great compromise that schools should adapt in order to keep recess.  A completely structured recess, however, I feel does not take full advantage of what children can gain from free play.  Coaches should lead recess in an organized manner but without forcing all children to participate in one game.  Just as in the video, there should be options that allow children to benefit socially and emotionally from peer interaction.  What do you think?


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Parent’s Reactions to the Issue

So your question at this point might be what do parents think of this issue?  Are they even aware that recess is being shortened? Here’s a news clip from September 2008 about the Spokane Public School District and parents reactions to the shortening of recess.


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10 further reasons about why playing is essential in children:

“It is in playing, and perhaps only in playing, that the child is free to be creative” -D.W. Winnicott

“Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning….They have to play with what they know to be true in order to find out more, and then they can use what they learn in new forms of play.”  –Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood

“Play is the highest expression of human development in childhood, for it alone is the free expression of what is in a child’s soul.” -Friedrich Frobel, “Father” of modern kindergarten

“Today’s young children are controlled by the expectations, schedules, whims, and rules of adults.  Play in the only time they can take control of their world.”  –Sheila G. Flaxman

“Playing reduces stress, improves life, and increases creativity.  Who doesn’t want that?” –Stevanne Auerbach, Dr. Toy

“It is paradoxical that many educators and parents still differentiate between a time for learning and a time for play without seeing the vital connection between them.”  –Leo Buscaglia, author, educator

“Play permits the child to resolve in symbolic form unsolved problems of the past and to cope directly or symbolically with present concerns. It is also his most significant tool for preparing himself for the future and its tasks.”  –Bruno Bettelheim, child psychologist

“Play can miniaturize a part of the complex world children experience, reduce it to understandable dimensions, manipulate it, and help them understand how it works.”  –Professor Jerome Singer, Yale University

“Without this playing with fantasy, no creative work has ever yet come to birth. The debt we owe to the play of imagination is incalculable.” –Carl Gustav Jung, psychologist, psychiatrist

“Play is the child’s main business in life; through play he learns the skills to survive and finds some pattern in the confusing world into which he was born.”  –Lee  (1977)

Surely you can see, Arne Duncan, that play is vital in children.  Set a mandatory recess policy in elementary schools nationwide.


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Physical Aspect of Recess

My previous post dealt with the cognitive, social and emotional benefits of recess in children.  Here are a few more advantages of recess for both students and teachers.

Physical Benefits:

  • Children who are active during the day are more active after school, whereas children who are sedentary during the day tend to remain sedentary after school (couch potato syndrome.)
  • Studies have shown that unstructured play, specifically outdoor play, encourages physical activity in a unique way.
  • “With soaring obesity rates and increased interest in sedentary activities, a six-hour or longer school day is too long for children to go without breaks or opportunities for substantive physical activity.” -Dolly Lambdin, Ed.D., president of the National Association for Sport & Physical Education.

Classroom Management and Teacher Benefits:

  • Teachers rated children’s behavior as better in classes where children had at least 15 minutes of recess.
  • Teachers get to know the children better when supervising them on the playground.  This knowledge can be useful in developing curriculum and in preventing bullying.
  • Time on the playground is a change of pace for the teacher as well as for the children.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity is a serious health concern for children and adolescents.  Results from the 2007-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey indicate than an estimated 17% of children and adolescents ages 2-19 are obese.

Obesity may lead to the following health problems:

  • Heart disease, caused by:
    • high cholesterol and/or
    • high blood pressure
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Asthma
  • Sleep apnea
  • Social discrimination

Also, obese children and adolescents are more likely to become obese as adults. For example, one study found that approximately 80% of children who were overweight at aged 10–15 years were obese adults at age 25 years.  Another study found that 25% of obese adults were overweight as children.  The latter study also found that if overweight begins before 8 years of age, obesity in adulthood is likely to be more severe.

Now don’t you see why physical activity during recess is essential?  Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, help stop the growing trend of childhood obesity and make sure there is adequate time for outdoor physical activity in the school day.

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The Benefits of Recess in Children

“To the young child, play is life itself. Play fills mind and body, mentality, emotionality, and physical being. A child engrossed in play is inventive, free and happy. Through the variety and depth of play, the child learns and grows. It is serious business; it is his world”~Evans, 1974

You’ve now heard one side of the recess issue, so here is the other side.  The following points all prove that recess is a beneficial part of a child’s school day, and deserves to be mandatory in all elementary schools.

Cognitive Benefits:

  • Children are less fidgety and more on-task when they have recess, and children with ADHD are among those who benefit most.
  • Research on memory and attention shows that recall is improved when learning is spaced out rather than concentrated.  Recess provides breaks during which the brain can “regroup.”
  • Brain research shows a relationship between physical activity and the development of brain connections.
  • A school system that devoted a third of the day to nonacademic activities (art, music, physical activity) improved attitudes and fitness and slightly increased test scores, in spite of spending less time on academics.
  • A child can apply the skills he or she has learned on the playground to classroom lessons and assignments.
  • “I strongly believe you are doing a disservice to students academically if you do not offer them time to unwind.” -Physical Education teacher Suzanne Legge.

Social Benefits:

  • Children improve their social skills at recess by practicing the following actions: sharing with peers, cooperating, communicating with teachers and children, solving problems, respecting playground rules,  and practicing self-discipline.
  • On the playground, children exercise leadership, teach games to one another, take turns, and learn to resolve conflicts.
  • In a free choice situation, children learn negotiation skills in order to keep the play going.
  • On supervised playgrounds, particularly where children are taught games and conflict resolution skills, there is little fighting.
  • “In a well-designed and appropriately supervised recess period, children learn how to cooperate, compete constructively, assume leader/follower roles and resolve conflicts.” -Dolly Lambdin, Ed.D., president of the National Association for Sport & Physical Education.

Emotional Benefits:

  • Recess may act as a stress reliever by allowing children to work off the tensions they have built up during the day and by reducing the anxiety that can be caused by academic pressures.
  • Through play activities, children can learn valuable methods for managing school and family-related stress.
  • Unstructured peer interaction may improve a child’s self-esteem by providing opportunities for children to learn about their own abilities, perseverance, self-direction, responsibility, and self-acceptance. They begin to understand which behaviors result in approval or disapproval from their peers.
  • The school playground provides a venue for children to cultivate friendships and reap the benefits of new relationships.

I hope these benefits have made you more aware of the value of recess and free play in children.  Arne Duncan, please take these points into consideration and mandate 45 minutes of recess time in elementary schools nationwide.


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RECESS: Reversing Effects of Continuous Educational Stress Syndrome

This episode, which aired September 1999, is from the Disney TV series Recess.  The episode is 10 minutes, but shows exactly the point I am trying to make about how too much testing and no free time for children to play has negative affects.  Enjoy!

Arne Duncan, don’t let this happen to our nation’s children!

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