Kids Need Recess




Everybody needs a break — kids as much as anybody. In fact, research shows it helps them learn better in school. Recess time has been championed as a way to help combat the nation’s childhood obesity problem. Studies also have shown that the free-play that comes with recess is crucial to a child’s cognitive, social and emotional development. So parents across the country are criticizing a trend where schools slash recess time, or even eliminate it entirely, to devote more classroom minutes to academic subjects and standardized test preparation. Many are lobbying their state lawmakers to require free-play for their children at school.

In New Jersey, the state legislature unanimously passed a bill earlier in 2016 that would require 20 minutes of recess each day for elementary school students through the fifth grade. But the governor pocket vetoed the recess bill, which means he left the bill to die through inaction. The state legislature cannot override a pocket veto.

“They have just ignored or neglected the fact that kids need more than just the three Rs. They need the four Rs — they need recess as well,” said Shirley Turner, the New Jersey state senator who sponsored the measure and has championed the effort for several years.

A similar measure was passed by the Florida House 112-to-2 in February, but the state Senate refused to take up the bill, leaving some parents who supported the measure feeling that the state had failed their children. Still, supporters were heartened by last fall’s effort by Seattle teachers who, as part of their contract negotiations, successfully fought for 30 minutes of recess daily for all elementary school students. In Dallas, school board trustees approved a requirement that mandates at least 30 minutes of daily recess.

According to an American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) policy statement touting its benefits, recess “represents an essential, planned respite from rigorous cognitive tasks and affords a time to rest, play, imagine, think, move and socialize.”

It also helps kids reset their brains for the remainder of the day. “After recess, for children or after a corresponding break time for adolescents, students are more attentive and better able to perform cognitively,” the organization said.

But just as critical to cognitive improvement, recess also is crucial to developing social and communication skills learned on the playground — lessons that usually don’t get taught inside a classroom. “Recess is the only place in school, maybe the only place in their social life, where kids have the opportunity to develop social skills with their peers,” said Robert Murray, M.D., one of the AAP report’s lead authors.

Physical education classes don’t offer the same benefits as recess because, while offering a physical outlet, P.E. is part of a structured curriculum taught in a controlled environment. Turner said kids need a chance to “just go out and play and have fun,” something they may not be able to do in P.E. class. “Kids need time in an unstructured environment where they are given creativity in terms of their outlet where they basically learn how to share and get along with each other.”

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