Updated: Mar 2
Experts say that there’s more to learning than just books. While academics are important and help shape the minds of our children, it has been found that there are some important life skills that can mostly only be learned through free play and interactions with other kids.
Recess is a time of the school day that kids look forward to the most. When you’re a kid, playtime never seems long enough - something we’ve all been familiar with in the past from when we were kids. Recess sees kids playing many games that often mimic real-life scenarios. These kinds of creative games allow them to learn how to communicate, negotiate, resolve disagreements and solve problems. Recess is a great time for kids to express themselves.
Should Canadian schools have more recess breaks?
A small school in rural Alberta doubled the number of recess breaks in order to increase student concentration as well as academic grades. The Bruderheim School, which has 130 students from kindergarten to Grade 6, opted for four recess breaks instead of two from September 2018 onward. Students do not spend more than an hour sitting in classrooms throughout the day. Principal Paul McKay is of the opinion that with more recess breaks, students are more self-regulated and are more ready to learn.
McKay implemented this system after being inspired by the Finnish education system, where every 45 minutes of classroom time is followed by a 15 minute recess. He came up with the idea after reading a book written by well-known Finnish educator, Pasi Sahlberg.
Other schools, especially those part of the LiiNK Project in Texas, have also adopted this model inspired by Finland to increase recess and physical activity.
The Importance of Long Recess
An extension for recess is necessary and should become mandatory if we want our future generations to acquire positive life skills and successful self-expression.
1. Frees The Mind
Kids spend a lot of time doing scheduled activities at school and at home where they’re expected to adhere to rules. And although children benefit from a schedule, they also need free time to explore their own ideas and process information. Kids tend to have a ton of energy, and it’s important to schedule downtime into their day to dissipate that energy. Recess and lunch are mostly the only time that kids actually get to free their minds.
2. Nurtures Creativity
Recess is a great time to nurture creativity as children get an opportunity to make their own decisions about what and how to play. This allows children to share ideas with one another, often leading to the creation of new games and ideas. They get a chance “to be whoever they want to be” during recess.
3. Helps Them Learn Better
Academic programs in schools can be rigorous for students, and keeping up with a set curriculum leaves little or no time to devote to recess. Children may learn better if they are given an adequate break. Regular breaks help them stay focused when they are on the task.
Recess helps kids relax. Physical activity releases endorphins in the brain that helps kids reduce anxiety. They can take a break from a difficult lesson and revisit the concept after clearing their minds on the playground. Often a child becomes frustrated with a lesson and needs a break before revisiting it - recess is a great time of day for this kind of reflection. Kids may have better clarity of mind after recess, allowing them to focus better.
4. Life Skills
Kids need to develop soft skills other than those taught in the academic realm. They need free time to converse normally with other kids, be that fun conversations as well as a few arguments. This helps them learn about real-life situations, and enhances the problem-solving skills they will need to get through their adult years. Recess needs to be longer so that there is ample time for students to deal with different types of situations.
5. Bonding with Friends and Teachers
Teachers barely have time to interact with students in between lessons. Recess gives students and teachers time to interact and communicate out of the classroom. Recess also provides an opportunity for kids to get to know each other, especially those in large classes where it’s increasingly difficult to talk to each student separately.
Time spent in the classroom with classmates is not enough to build relationships. Children need time to have full-length conversations that are not interrupted. More extended recess generally allows time for kids to build this bond. Bonding is an important element of child development. They need to bond with people other than their friends, teachers and parents. Relationship building is a big part of life and teaches kids to trust each other and to care for others.
6. Better Behaviour
Early morning recess is a great outlet for the day’s first burst of energy for children. This practice should continue into elementary school years too. Today’s generation spends excessive amounts of time on punishments when many behavioural issues could be solved merely by allowing an extended recess. The extra free time, physical activity and social time automatically gives students the opportunity to get things out of their system before settling in for their next class.
7. More Patient Teachers
Teachers often get worn out from working with large numbers of kids, recess allows them to take a break as well, giving their minds some rest while still keeping an eye on their class. A strong trait of a teacher is their incredible patience in dealing with children. Teachers are able to show more kindness and patience when they get a break from the classroom during recess as well. Once class time resumes after recess, teachers and students both feel much calmer.
8. Physical Health
Obesity rates in children are alarming in today’s generation. Poor diet, minimal exercise and increased stress levels are all contributing to weight gain and other chronic health issues. Sitting for long hours in the classroom also contributes to this problem. The only time kids actually get to move freely is during recess.
Recess has a different meaning for kids, they run around, jump and simply just have fun. They are likely to burn more calories while they play. This can be helpful for the general physical health of children as well as contributing to reducing obesity. When it comes to physical health, teachers can help students by organizing relay races, obstacle courses, or a short exercise routine during recess. This is something we do at Recess Guardians with over 600 schools. And in order to be able to do this, schools need to make recess longer.
9. Mental Health
Long hours in the classroom can take a toll on the mental health of children. Children often take home large amounts of homework, even after a long day of learning at school, leading them to feel quite stressed. A longer recess, however, could easily add enough movement to help minimize mental discomfort.
Recess plays a catalytic role in improving mental health by providing physical activities, time with friends and a mental break. Chemicals like endorphins released during exercise help the mind resist anxiety and depression. The social aspect of recess helps kids develop a healthy support system. Vitamin D from the sun is necessary for the body and the mind to perform properly. Students need a decent break at school to perform well and stay mentally healthy.
10. More Enjoyment of The School Day
Recess is one of the only times where kids can catch up with their peers. Just sit and talk to them. Recess is more than just an exercise time. It is their social outlet where they spend a large part of this time building relationships.
School is more difficult for some children than others. And for kids that have a hard time academically, this break can bring some much-needed fun and enjoyment. Challenging times are much easier to handle when they are able to have a little fun during recess.