The beginning of the school year has arrived for many children, so taking a look at the importance of recess seems timely. Recess is defined as a break in the school day that offers children a chance to engage in free, unstructured, active play. Research about recess and play continues to confirm what is intuitive: children benefit when they are given recess time during the school day. In fact, children are actually less fidgety and more attentive after recess.

Here are some facts culled from the ongoing research:

  • A group of researchers from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York found that elementary school children who are given some free time during the school day receive better ratings from teachers on their classroom behavior.
  • Many researchers view play as essential for healthy brain development. Play promotes intellectual and emotional development as well as creativity, imagination, and resilience.

Also, authors of a new study used data from a large survey sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education. This particular study was powerful because they reviewed data collected on more than 15,000 students who were eight or nine years old. The study included all major ethnic groups, every geographical region in the country, and an equal number of boys and girls. Students from both private and public school settings were included as well as all socioeconomic groups. In addition, urban as well as rural settings were represented. The parents of study participants ranged in educational experiences as well, from not finishing high school to graduate degrees.

One of the findings of concern in this new study’s research is that students have less free time in school now than they did thirty or forty years ago. It appears that the test scores now required by law have taken priority over the true needs of children and at the expense of the desired outcome. Students who are kept in the classroom’s structured learning environment all day without breaks for free play are likely to be less attentive, which means they are likely to be learning less efficiently.

Beyond limiting the intellectual, emotional, and social growth and development of children by reducing recess time, there is the physical component. The rate of obesity in children has continued to rise. Recess is one way to model and teach children the habit of planning to make time for physical activity in their day.

Advocate for balance between formal teaching and recess time for school-age children.

More to consider: Recess is learning . . .

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends play, particularly active and creative play, because it helps children be more successful in and out of school.