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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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