Benefits of Recess in Elementary School

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Recess is an important part of a child's education. It provides them with opportunities to play and have fun, which is crucial for their cognitive and physical development.

Believe it or not, recess is actually more important than academics in many ways–yet it is often limited.

Let's chat about some of the benefits of recess in elementary school, and what we can do to make sure our child gets enough time to play.

Why Recess Is So Important For Child Development 

Most people would agree that recess is an important part of a child's education. It gives them time to play and have fun, which is crucial for their cognitive and physical development

Everyone, both kids and adults, benefits from a break during their day. Statistics show that having unstructured breaks integrated into your work day makes you more productive than if you were to work constantly for long stretches.

Recess plays a very prominent role in a child’s physical, cognitive, and social-emotional development and well-being. 

It is one of the few times that can be guaranteed active, physical activity time for kids, making it a very important time. It is recommended that kids get at least an hour of mild to vigorous exercise every day.

Recess time also gives students a mental break from the structured school day. It allows them time to relax, use their imagination, socialize with their peers, and play.

Because they are playing with other children, they also learn important social skills during recess, such as sharing, turn-taking, communicating, problem-solving, and even appropriate play skills. Recess helps children develop important life skills that they will need as they grow. 

The Benefits of Recess In The Elementary School Setting

Cognitive Benefits of Recess in Elementary School

There are many cognitive benefits of recess for kids in elementary school. According to a study done by Harvard University, when children exercise often, the part of their brain that controls memory and thinking actually grows stronger, which improves their academic and learning skills. 

This study also goes on to explain that children who are more physically active scored higher on standardized tests and had higher comprehension rates due to better brain function. They become more attentive in the classroom because they are happier, more relaxed, and have been allowed to take an unstructured break. They have lower stress levels because of their unstructured recess time. This, in turn, allows kids to show higher levels of academic achievement.

Social and Emotional Benefits of Recess

One of the benefits of the recess is that it allows children to socialize. This is important because it helps them develop communication skills and learn how to interact with others.

If you think about some of the absolute most important “soft skills” needed to succeed in life, they're almost all related to communication and socialization.

According to the same study from Harvard noted above, kids who were more physically active had less anxiety and depression. They also showed fewer signs of stress. Their overall mental well-being was greatly improved simply from having recess each day of the week.

Because these students feel better and have been given a break, they also have better behavior in class. Because of this, along with many other benefits, schools should promote longer daily recess times. 

Recess also helps children develop important social skills. They are able to play make-believe games and role play with other kids, which helps them develop important social skills. They also learn communication skills, turn-taking skills, and even problem-solving skills.

Because kids are allowed to interact and play with each other daily during recess, the overall environment of the school has a positive impact. During this unstructured play time, kids are able to learn cooperation, self-control, coping skills, and many other things that are important to their social development as well as their emotional development.

Students are able to develop a sense of self-direction during recess, which is important for their social and emotional health. Because this time of day is unstructured, kids are required to make their own decisions. They decide who they will play with, what they will play with, and how they will play it. This fosters their sense of self-direction in a positive way. This, in turn, increases their sense of self-empowerment and confidence. 

Physical Benefits of Recess in Elementary School

Recess is also important because it gives children a chance to move their bodies. We now know that physical activity is crucial for brain development, and recess provides an opportunity for kids to get up and move.

Especially nowadays when schools are so focused on academics and children are not given nearly enough time to move about the classroom.

The more physical activity children have, the better they will be able to focus in the classroom.  

Recess provides an opportunity for kids to get their energy out so that they can sit still and concentrate on their academics when they need to (but keep in mind that learning is done best through hands-on experiences and sitting, memorizing, and drilling information is not the best way for children to learn!)

Physical fitness is a huge part of a child’s well-being. Physical health can be just as important as mental health. 

According to statistics, recess makes up almost 70% of a child’s physical activity during the week. Because of this, recess seems to be one of the only times that many kids are active during the week, making it one of their only sources of exercise.

In fact, the health department recommends that kids get at least an hour of vigorous physical activity each day. This helps reduce sedentary activity and keeps kids active. 

Physical activity promotes all areas of health for children. Physical activity promotes attention and memory. They will also build muscular fitness during this time. Not only will it help their muscles, but their cardiovascular health and bone strength. Getting this daily physical activity will help children maintain a healthy weight and will contribute to their long-term health.

Recess teaches life skills

Recess time in elementary school gives children time to explore their interests. They can try out different activities and figure out what they enjoy.

Recess gives children a chance to practice important life skills. They learn how to resolve conflicts, share with others, and cooperate as a team. These are all skills that they will need in adulthood.

Benefits of longer recess

While the benefits of recess are clear, many schools are cutting back on recess time. In fact, some schools do not have recess at all!

This is a problem because children need time to play. We cannot forget that play is HOW children actually learn. Kids need time to move their bodies and socialize with their classmates.

In many other countries, recess is a prominent piece of the elementary school day. 

In Finland, for example, children have a 15-minute break every hour of class. This is significantly more than we give students in the U.S.

In many parts of the world, children are given ample time to play because it is understood how important play is for child development.

Another important thing to note is that recess should be happening outside. There are so many benefits to outdoor play, including improved attention span, increased creativity, and reduced stress. Being in nature has also been linked to better physical health.

A Longer Recess Helps Foster Creativity

During recess, children should be given opportunities to make their own decisions regarding what and how they want to play. It allows children to share their ideas with each other, which often leads to the creation of new ideas. They get a chance to play outside during recess and create games, activities, and characters using their own imagination and creativity.

Duration of Recess

Many studies push for students to have a full hour of recess every school day.

The minimum allowed by the CDC is 20 minutes of recess, but studies show that this just is not enough. When students are allowed to play for longer lengths of time, they are allowed more time for creativity and imagination, which are both important for their development. It also allows them more time to develop problem-solving skills.

Because of the amount of time that it takes for children to decide who they want to play with, what they want to play, and how they want to play it, a shorter recess may not allow them time to actually get started playing. It will end just as they are ready to get started.

A longer block of time, even up to 40 minutes of recess, allows them more flexibility and gives them the time that they need to play and develop these social, cognitive, and physical skills.

Children also need this time to regulate their bodies and get ready for structured instructional time in the classroom. According to Eric Jensen, children who have shorter recesses actually come back into the classroom more hyper than they were before. This is because they were not allowed the time that they needed to play and release some energy. An hour-long recess would allow children the time that they need to be able to come back and focus and learn in the classroom.

Timing of Recess

Recess should be at a midpoint of the school day so that children are allowed to take a break. It is a time for them to have unstructured activities with no instruction. When they return after a longer recess, they will be better able to listen and comprehend a lesson that is being taught in class. Many school districts choose to have recess right after lunch, but studies show that it is actually better to have recess before lunch. The exact time is not specific, but recess should not be the very first or the very last part of the day. If the recess is scheduled in the middle of the day to give kids the break that they need, it is proven that academic performance will improve. 

Frequency & Intervals of Recess

Studies show that recess is better for elementary school students if it is given in one large block rather than divided up into smaller blocks. That is because of the length of time that it takes children to decide what they want to play with and who they want to play with.

They need a long time all at once to make these decisions and then begin to play and get the physical activity that they need during the week. Having a longer recess each day of the week will have a positive impact on a child's social, cognitive, and physical well-being.

Does P.E. Count As Recess?

Physical Education should not count as recess, though some school districts may say differently. P.E. is a structured, learning time when children are focused on developing specific skills. It is not a time for free, imaginative play.

This is even verified by the CDC, which says that P.E. cannot count as recess time because it is structured. Kids need unstructured play time to problem solve, make decisions, and develop social skills.

So how much recess is enough?

The National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) recommends that elementary school children should have MINIMUM 20 minutes of recess per day.

But this should be criminal. Children really need to spend closer to 3-4 HOURS a day playing (preferably outside).

In addition, recess should be scheduled at regular intervals throughout the day, multiple times per day.

Also, recess should not be used as a “reward” or “punishment” because it's a BASIC NEED for children.

Oftentimes, parents claim that their child's school is taking away recess for things like unfinished homework, not being focused in class, or an inability to sit still. This is the opposite of what we should be doing.

If a child is having trouble sitting still in class, that's a sign they need MORE recess, not less. Children's bodies are not made to sit at desks. They should be up and moving; exploring and learning through hands-on experiences.

Should loss of recess be used as a punishment?

It is very important that taking away recess is not used as a punishment for elementary students. Many educators believe that the threat of losing recess will encourage a kid to behave better, but it actually often has the opposite effect and they will lash out.

According to statistics, students actually behave much better in the classroom after they are given a long recess. It reduces disruptive behavior and helps them stay on task when they are in a more structured setting.

This is because they were given the opportunity to let out their pent-up energy, socialize and play with their peers, and give their brains a break during this unstructured play time. 

How can school districts improve recess?

There are many things that school districts can do to improve recess time for kids. All schools should make sure that at a very minimum, students have at least 20 minutes of recess each day.

Loss of recess should not be used as a punishment in any school district. Just as physical education classes should not be used to count towards recess time, recess time should also not be used to count towards physical education time.

It should be an unstructured time of free play.

School districts should also make sure that their educators are aware of the benefits of recess. 

This should be ongoing professional training to ensure that children are getting the physical activity that they need during recess each school day.

Why students should have more recess

Students need more recess for academic, cognitive, social, physical, and emotional reasons.

If we want our children to be able to be happy and healthy, we need to make sure that they are playing.

For kids, recess is a time to burn off their excess energy in a healthy way. 

It allows them to explore, play, and exercise during an unstructured time, which is very important for their development. It has been found that there is more to learning than just reading and writing.

While academics are extremely important and help shape little minds, it is also true that there are many important skills that can only really be obtained through free play and interactions with other kids, which makes recess in schools that much more important.

Free play during recess allows kids to explore their environment and interact with each other, boosting their social and emotional well-being. Playing games that mirror real-life situations helps kids learn about communicating appropriately, negotiating, resolving conflicts, and problem-solving skills.

This unstructured playtime is a special and important time for kids because it gives them an opportunity to show what they can do without having the pressure of showing a result.

It is a chance for them to express themselves while developing crucial life skills.

So how can we make sure our children are getting enough recess?

We need to advocate for more recess in schools. This means talking to the school board, teachers, and administrators about the importance of recess.

It is also important to get involved in your child's school and make sure that they are providing enough time for recess.

Secondly, we can encourage our children to play outside of school. This means making sure that they have time to play after school and on weekends.

Having a longer period of unstructured recess time each day will improve a child’s mental, physical, and emotional health. It is important to make sure that they are given this break each day in order to develop the skills that they need to be successful in the classroom and in life.