Is recess a fundamental component of a child’s growth and development, or is it just play? More and more studies are reporting that play is necessary to foster a child’s creative and social growth, curiosity and exploration. On the other hand, many school districts say they are being pressured to swap out play time at recess for more instructional time in the classroom.
Some San Diego schools, like America’s Finest Charter School in City Heights, see recess as an essential component of a child’s whole development. In addition to its obvious health benefits, Director of America’s Finest Charter School Jan Perry says recess and play spark her students’ creativity and relieve stress.
“Recess is so necessary,” she said. “Kids need a time to decompress and socialize with each other. They can choose whom to play with. I love seeing the younger children use their imagination by playing monster or house together.”
Director of Innovations Academy, Christine Kuglen, holds a slightly different view however. She said recess is not necessarily essential if students have alternative opportunities to get moving and socialize in the classroom.
“If you have ever spent any time with children, you will understand that they need to move. It is part of their biology to move all of the time. It is the way they should be. Certainly everyone benefits from breaks and freedom of movement,” she said. “I’m not sure that recess is essential. It depends a lot on the design of the classroom schedule. If children are being asked to sit all day, and not just to stay seated but to be quiet and still, then recess is absolutely essential.”
Kuglen suggests active classroom activities such as getting children outside to learn games, having options for different seating arrangements in the classroom, encouraging group work, and allowing snacking and drinking as needed to fill a child’s need to move, socialize and de-stress.
We asked other teachers, parents and school administrators from around the nation to weigh in with their thoughts on whether or not they feel recess is essential. Here are a few of the comments we received, and feel free to leave a comment below with your own thoughts!
Sheila Baker Hawkins, Co-Director and Teacher at Within the Fold Ministries
“A time of relaxation is essential for children (and for adults too for that matter!), as it gets the blood flowing again to the tired brain. Little children should have time to play and to exercise on swings, climbing frames or running after a ball, etc. ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’ is as true today as it was years ago. Children need at least 30 minutes for each break during the day. Shorten the lengths of lessons to make time for more learning subjects instead and be realistic about time, which is limited and we can’t overload it without making school hours longer. Who wants an 18-hour school day just to fit it all in?”
Stephanie Miller, teacher at San Antonio Independent School District
“We get overloaded with information and these children do too, they have to run off frustration as well as have some time to enjoy activity and this is really important developmentally as well as physically, mentally and emotionally. That children learn half of all the information before the age of 6 is common knowledge now, and it means they need time to assimilate all the information that they absorb.”
Michelle Sybert, San Diego mother of two school-aged children
“I think recess and movement is instrumental in the learning process. It’s not only important to give kids an extended opportunity to “get their wiggles out”, but it’s also important for creating and facilitating the peer to peer social interaction that can help build friendships and foster self confidence!”
Maureen Ryan, volunteer at National Parent Teacher Association
“Without a doubt, children definitely need time to play, to relax, to be regenerated as the circulation of their blood around the body is quickened by exercise and renewed oxygen refresh tired brain cells, bringing new interest to tired bodies which are then in states of peace, joy and happiness. Recess should never be removed from the time table.”
Camille Williams, Teacher at St. Francis Infant and Primary School
“Play is very essential to children’s holistic development. There is a saying ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’; this saying is thoroughly true and children should be given the opportunity to play as it allows them totally express their thoughts and enhance their speech, socialization and psychomotor skills (holistic growth and development). A child that plays is a healthier child in and throughout his/her academic performances and is also a happier person. Even for adults, when we play or do some sorts of exercise we feel so energized and our minds are much more relaxed and ready to do our other duties. Now, if exercise or extra activities does this for adults imagine what it does for a child. Children should be given the privilege to portray their natural innate work, play and schools should allow recess.”
Virginia Wiseman, Cleveland Municipal Schools Teacher
“Recess is vital to classroom behavior. Students need to work off some of the stress of today’s challenging curriculum.”
Mary Prime Lawrence, Manager of Parent Leadership at Great Oakland Public Schools
“I am adverse to take away recess time for the students I teach in an afterschool program. Many of my students do not live in areas that offer safe or appropriate areas for children to play and so adequate recess time at school is vitally important. I do have students whose behavior is pretty egregious at times. I have these students take time outs to think about their behavior, breathe, get a drink of water and even call home to let family know they are struggling. I even have students call home to let family know when they are doing well in my class. Taking away recess as a means to enforce discipline in a classroom has not been a good classroom management tool. I find that ADDING recess time or game time (Rock, Paper, Scissor and Spelling Bees) have greatly increased positive behavior among my students and is an added incentive for regular attendance.”
School districts from coast to coast are dealing with similar challenges in finding the best solution to balance structured classroom curricula with free play. Some schools deem recess to be of utmost importance, while others are finding more innovative ways to incorporate movement in the classroom. With the heightened pressures of keeping U.S. schools competitive in the international community, many school districts are initiating sweeping reforms that may affect how the next generation of students grow and learn. The question is, in what shape will that reform take and how will it affect today’s youth? Will school reform emphasize free play as an essential component for childhood development, or will it favor more structured classroom learning to make students more competitive?
We would love to hear from you, so we raise the question: “Is recess really essential?” Leave a comment below, and let us know what you think!