How to Make Recess More Beneficial
The movement to bring recess back for kids during the school day is encouraged by studies that show the benefits of school recess in academic progress. Scholastic.com notes that recess is important for all kids, but especially kids whose attention spans suffer without sufficient stimulation. But not everyone gets the message. There are still people who view recess as a negotiation tool, not a necessity. As Scholastic.com notes:
“Alarmingly, say recess proponents, about two thirds of principals report taking away recess as punishment for behavior problems or not finishing work, according to ‘The State of Play’ 2009 survey by Gallup for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. ‘It's the kids who have trouble concentrating that need recess more than anybody else—and they are the ones less likely to get it,’ says Olga Jarrett, a leading researcher on recess and an associate professor of early childhood education at Georgia State University.”
These challenges indicate that not everyone appreciates the value of recess or knows how to make it more beneficial. It all starts with a baseline view of what recess is, and how it works in the life of a child.
A recent study published by Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), found that even a 15-minute recess in the school day could improve learning.
That means recess does not need to be a structured activity every day. Many days it is sufficient to simply give children time outside to play, be active and socialize freely.
According to the AAP, unstructured play feeds important emotional, social and cognitive developmental channels in children. It is important to remember that many children do not even view activities like soccer as play, because practices are so structured and run by adults. As a result, kids do not get effective release and emotional benefits of play from youth sports.
"With recess, children have choices and can organize their own games, figure out what's fair, and learn a lot of social behavior that they don't learn in P.E.," said Jarrett.
Because recess took a large hit in recent years under pressure from the federal No Child Left Behind program, many schools and homeschool leaders are still trying to figure out what constitutes best practices for recess.
The most important factor is to consider what is good for children. What we do know is that on average approximately 12 hours per week of recess has been erased from schools since the 1970s. That seems unacceptable, but the movement to bring back more recess time can be pushed aside under the onus of test scores and school performance.
Most playground supervisors recognize that a well-constructed and creative playground structure is helpful in fostering creative play because it gives kids a center for their physical and emotional attention. It is important to recognize that the choices kids make and the games they invent for their playtime are the methods by which they restore their mental energy.
As adults, we need to remind ourselves to keep recess free from the constant threat of its demise. Kids need to feel secure in knowing the time they have to play is protected and will not be taken away.
Children learn easily enough to respond to schedules, and will return to learning when the bell rings or when they’re called back inside at a set time. Most even appreciate that sort of structure because it is something they learn to calculate in their own heads.
Granted, kids can get out of hand during recess and disciplinary problems are common, but these challenges need to be balanced against benefits gained from recess when kids get back to learning. These include:
1. Better attention span and task capability
2. Improved memory and retention
3. More efficient brain connections
4. Learned negotiation skills
5. Leadership and conflict resolution
6. Physical “memory” and desire to play
To make recess most beneficial to children, there needs to be willingness to:
1. Encourage kids to play without controlling them
2. Advocate for the benefits of recess to administrators and parents
3. Supervise for safety and discipline so that the play atmosphere is positive
4. Share and rotate prime play areas between groups and classes
5. Reward kids with verbal support and affirmation for creative play
The key way to make recess more beneficial is to place a high value on unstructured play and maintain an environment where kids can freely (and safely) enjoy the playtime that, in the long run, contributes to learning progress and socialization.
About the author:
David Reeves is Marketing Manager of Playland Inc. in Carrollton, GA. Playland Inc., is a total solutions manufacturer and supplier to many industries, with its roots deep in the park and playground markets including churches, schools, and day care centers. It has developed into the only company in its field to offer direct to all of its customers, the ability to purchase outdoor playgrounds, shelters, shade, indoor playgrounds, water slides and site amenities.