How Much Recess Should Kids Get


How Much Recess Should Kids Get

How Much Recess Should Kids Get

SoalSMA - How Much Recess Should Kids Get - Ask a group of kids about their favorite part of the school day and most will talk about something that happened during recess.  Maybe they finally made it to the monkey bars.  Maybe someone hit the square ball over the fence.  Maybe the fruit tree in the neighbor's yard started dropping plums on the playground.

Any of these things is a sign of a good vacation, not only according to children, but also adults who study the benefits of the game.  Whether they're creating a new game or sitting under the tree, kids need a break during the school day — or most of them.  And not only to be able to blow off steam.

Schools may be held accountable for how well children do in reading and math, but experts say recess plays a vital but often overlooked role in children's physical, emotional and intellectual development.  While physical education focuses on teaching and practicing certain skills, recess is not academic.  Research shows that children need this supervised free time to move and socialize to process their emotions and what they learn in the classroom.

"When our brains are working, we can't go through hours and retain and store information in working memory," says William Massey, an associate professor of kinesiology at Oregon State University in Corvallis.  "You need time to process."

Why do children need rest?

There is no disputing that physical activity, which has more than tripled since the 1970s, is a powerful tool for preventing childhood obesity, especially for children.  The average child sits for 8.5 hours a day.  Combine that with high-calorie foods and you'll inevitably gain weight, researchers say.  But research shows that getting at least 20 minutes of daily rest and 150 minutes of physical activity per week can make a measurable difference in children's weight.

Beyond the physical benefits, rest is emotionally and cognitively important for children.  Active activity activates the brain's prefrontal cortex, building connections between the creative and analytical sides of the brain.  Activities that involve arms and legs—running, climbing, crawling—build new neural connections that help children control their emotions and process what they've learned in the classroom.

An unstructured but controlled breakout is equally beneficial.  Kathryn Ramstetter, co-author of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Recess Recommendations, says these breaks should be times when children can choose between sitting, physical, creative or social options.

"We don't doubt that adults need to take a break," Ramstetter said.  "Our expectations of young children are especially heartbreaking."

Studies show that after recess, children pay more attention in class, perform better cognitively, and have fewer behavior problems.  A study of fourth-graders in Fort Worth, Texas, found that children who returned to school after the Covid-19 lockdown and took a 45-minute daily recess had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol after three months than students who had a 30-minute recess.

How much is enough?

Ideally, kids should get four 15-minute breaks every day, says Debbie Rea, a kinesiology professor at Texas Christian University and director of the LiiNK Project, which supports outdoor play in schools. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics confirms this recommendation, for young children and adolescents.  While recess is usually only part of the school day for elementary school children, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently expanded its mandate to encourage recess for all students, including middle and high schools.

But when it comes to allocating those precious school-day minutes, recess is rarely a priority.  Since the early 2000s, many schools have cut or eliminated recess for more school time.  Since 2001, the average weekly vacation time has decreased by 60 minutes.  Only nine states require schools to offer recess, and most districts do not have a formal recess policy. 

And while it's still common practice for teachers to take time off as punishment, experts say it should never happen.

"We didn't let kids sit out of math or reading because they were bad," Massey said.  "Often restless children are the most needy children. They need time to regulate.

How to make accommodations better

In addition to simply providing enough time for recess, schools need to teach social skills that make recess more successful, Rhea said.

The LiiNK project works in consultation with school districts to train teachers and administrators on how to incorporate behavior development curriculum into recess.  A fifteen-minute classroom lesson around empathy and respect, Ria says, can turn recesses from chaos into meaningful learning opportunities.

“Children solve their problems better on the playground.  The character curriculum helped with that,” says Rhea.  "Children learn from each other, but when an adult enters there, the adult changes the environment."

Children need more opportunities to practice sharing, turn-taking and conflict resolution, especially after physically missing school during Covid-19, Massey says.  Preparing for vacation, it is an opportunity to talk about how to make a smooth transition during the day - often in the classroom.

“There's nothing we can do without formality,” says Massey.  But we do this on vacation.  Then we wonder why things aren't going well.

This approach changes the role of adults on the playground, she says, who should be less police and more like facilitators of play.  For example, it is important for teachers and staff on duty to allow children to take reasonable risks with their bodies.

Allowing children to run faster helps them develop coordination.  Running the slide may not be as dangerous as it seems.  And even falling, Rea says, children need to practice so they don't get hurt badly.  It's okay for kids to be bored, too.

"It's hard for adults to see kids doing anything," Ria says.  But "when children are bored, they have to be creative and think of something to do."

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