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Pediatricians Say Slashing Recess Hurts Kids, but Will Adults Listen?

The AAP says recess should "not be withheld for punitive or academic reasons."

When I was in elementary school, I got a nice 30-minute recess every morning, and another chunk of free time after lunch. When I tell my own school-aged kids about the epic kickball games that used to go down during those breaks, I feel like somebody's grandma reminiscing about a time when a loaf of bread was a nickel.

Our modern 10 to 15-minute version of recess—and some kids don't even get that—barely gives children a chance to use the restroom, let alone pick captains for a game of kickball. Now the American Academy of Pediatrics is speaking out against the trend of schools reducing or completely eliminating recess. In their recently-released policy statement—their first ever about recess—the AAP says "recess is a crucial and necessary component of a child’s development and, as such, it should not be withheld for punitive or academic reasons."

When I was a teacher, I was certainly guilty of taking away recess. If my students didn't do their homework, they knew they spent their 15-minute (later reduced to 10-minutes thanks to the pressures of No Child Left Behind—apparently that extra five minutes of class time could make all the difference over the course of a year) recess in the classroom with me, completing the homework. But the AAP says kids need recess time to mentally decompress. The statement's authors say:

"Recess represents an essential, planned respite from rigorous cognitive tasks. It affords a time to rest, play, imagine, think, move, and socialize. After recess, for children or after a corresponding break time for adolescents, students are more attentive and better able to perform cognitively. In addition, recess helps young children to develop social skills that are otherwise not acquired in the more structured classroom environment."


Essentially, slashing recess time so teachers have more time to drill kids on academic concepts that might show up on a standardized test is probably making children less able to absorb that content, stifling their imagination, and keeping them from developing emotional intelligence. Not to mention, not getting a chance to go outside and run around isn't doing anything to help reduce our child obesity rates.

As the author's note, there are plenty of studies showing the positive effects of recess already out there. And other nations are already aligning their recess with the research. In Japan, for example, elementary school children "have a 10- to 15-minute break every hour" because "attention spans begin to wane after 40 to 50 minutes of intense instruction." Let's hope that the adults in charge of school policy here in America finally decide to pay attention to the research, too.

Elementary school children racing photo via Shutterstock

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