The Importance of Recess

Middle School students playing soccer; Importance of Recess; The Branch School; Private School in Houston

The answers are as automatic as the questions:

“How was your day at school, sweet child/light of my life?”

“Fine.”

“What was the best part?”

“RECESS!”

I can still remember how precious those minutes on the playground were when I was young; how we all looked forward to running as fast as we could out the door and onto the playground. I remember how devastated I was the recess counter in Fifth Grade went from 10 minutes to 9 because the class’s behavior was deemed unacceptable by our teacher. I remember making up games like Wall Ball, negotiating rules on the fly, and then arguing with my friends as we walked back to the classroom about who was right. These are important, formative memories that I wouldn’t have if recess had fallen by the wayside.

Recess has historically been an afterthought, an inconsequential part of the school day, and something that can be done away with if a school’s performance fell behind. A full 20% of schools reported reducing recess 10 years ago, and that number grew with the passing of the No Child Left Behind Act. This bill placed more pressure on schools to hit achievement goals on standardized tests, which put more and more pressure on teachers to cram more and more subjects into a school day.

Boys going down the playground slide; Importance of Recess; The Branch School; Private School in Houston

Recess was too often the first casualty in the fight to close the gap between high-performing and underperforming schools. Unfortunately, cutting recess may have had the opposite effect, as the benefits of unstructured recreational time far outweigh any concerns about it being a non-essential part of the academic day. In fact, recess can have a significant impact on those all-important test scores.

For example, recess can greatly improve children’s ability to focus and control themselves throughout the day. Research has shown that there’s a positive link between exercise and cognitive ability, but there’s also the common sense factor: kids who are able to expend their energy in a productive manner (recess) won’t be forced to expend it unproductively (disrupting class). That time spent outside in the sunshine and fresh air also reduces stress and allows students to relax, both of which are important during high-stress periods like the weeks of standardized tests.

Boys spinning on playground spika; Importance of Recess; The Branch School; Private School in Houston

The Centers for Disease Control tells us that 20% of school-aged children are carrying excess body fat, and therefore recommends that children get at least an hour of physical activity each day to combat this. Likewise, the NFL has their Play60 initiative that encourages parents and children to get up and moving for at least 60 minutes each day. You’d be hard pressed to find a study that disagrees with the idea that children need physical activity to live healthy lives. So why do so many schools force them to sit in a classroom for six to seven hours a day? Kids need to move, and recess lets them do that.

One of the arguments against recess is that it takes time away from learning, that the kids don’t get enough out of the unstructured time. It turns out nothing could be further from the truth, and that recess in fact teaches all manner of useful skills that children will need throughout their lives. Recess lets children socialize, and practice the soft skills they need to communicate and get along with others. They learn about teamwork and conflict-resolution through playing games. They can strengthen their leadership and negotiation skills on the playground in ways the classroom can’t replicate. All of these skills will help them long after they’ve left the classroom and moved into adulthood.

Three students swinging; Importance of Recess; The Branch School; Private School in Houston

Still not convinced? The American Academy of Pediatrics says that recess is a crucial and necessary component of a child’s development and should not be withheld for any reason. Basically, doctors and academics agree that recess is a vital part of the education experience. It gives children a necessary break away from the rigors of the classroom, and lets them just be kids. Our children are already forced to grow up too fast; why are we speeding up this process by taking away what little time they have to play?

More and more parents are asking themselves this same question, and not liking the answers they get. As recess time gets diminished or outright abolished at public schools across the country, parents are increasingly deciding to enroll their children in private schools that can set their own schedules and create their own cultures where recess is a vital part of the curriculum. From the youngest to the oldest, all children at The Branch School have healthy opportunities throughout the day to run, play, and exercise.  Recess isn’t something that should be sacrificed for other educational opportunities. It’s something that should be celebrated because it gives our children the opportunity to enjoy their childhoods and become the people they are meant to be.

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