Updated: Feb 3
Schools across North America are recognizing the benefits of daily recess for elementary students. In a time of increased academic pressure and focus on standardized tests, some schools are pushing back and mandating daily recess. They realize that their students actually perform better when they are allowed more unstructured playtime.
For instance, the Province of Quebec puts a time minimum on school recess, releasing education guidelines that will require 2 breaks of at least 20 minutes starting in fall 2019. When announcing the changes, Education Minister Jean-François Roberge noted: “Recess lets students be physically active, spend time outside, clear their heads, and leads to a better, healthier academic environment.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics states that recess represents an essential, planned breathing space from rigorous cognitive tasks. It creates a space wherein elementary students can rest, imagine, think, play, move, and socialize. After recess, students tend to be more attentive and better able to perform cognitively. In addition, recess helps young children to develop social skills that cannot be acquired in a structured learning environment.
Changing the mindset of some educators and parents can be challenging. Below are some of the outlined benefits of recess in elementary school.
11 Benefits of Recess in Elementary Schools:
1. Improved Academics - Across North America, increasing the amount of recess at elementary school has resulted in higher academic performance. There's also been an increase in test scores. Physical activity has proved to optimize brain performance in children by expediting the delivery of oxygen to the brain. The more oxygen available to the child’s brain, the better they perform.
2. Fewer Disciplinary Problems - Fewer disciplinary problems were also reported after children were able to go outdoors and play. Studies suggested that at least one daily recess period resulted in better classroom behavior among students.
3. Increased Engagement - Children are more engaged in the learning process after physical activity. This is because recess gives them a much needed break from the structured classroom environment.
4. Positive Attitude Toward School - Students begin to look forward to school more often, as they get ample time during recess to socialize. Their academic and classroom performances also improved with extended recess.
5. Improved Social Skills - Additional recess provided more opportunities to build important social skills required for the future. Recess serves as a required break from the rigorous classroom and academic challenges during school hours. It also offers several social benefits that are a must for a child’s all-round development.
6. Physical Exercise - There's no question about the physical benefits of regular exercise during recess, especially in today's increasingly tech-focused world. The physical activity students participate in during recess can reduce stress levels and allow students to feel more relaxed. Recess serves the physical needs of a child and therefore helps to foster academic success.
7. Independent Learning - Teachers also report that students are more likely to learn and problem solve independently. Recess offers children the opportunity to play creatively and be independent. It automatically encourages independent learning and develops problem-solving skills in them.
8. Increased Confidence - Recess helps improve academic and social skills, as well as less "getting in trouble" which can drastically increase a child's confidence. During recess, children can build self-confidence by experimenting with their skills, taking risks, using their imaginations and adapting to different environments.
9. Noticeable Shift in Following Directions - Paying attention and following directions in class can be a challenge for some elementary students, but teachers report a noticeable difference when children are given ample recess. Especially after recess, students tend to be more attentive and better able to perform cognitively. Outdoor activities make the child more attentive and, therefore, more productive in the classroom, this is because recess time gives them a break from the structured classroom environment.
10. Natural Sunlight - Exposure to sunlight is essential for maintaining healthy vitamin D levels in children. Some studies have also reported that vitamin D is good for brain development, especially during the growing years. Recess provides exposure to natural sunlight that can increase mood and overall health. Exposure to sunlight is believed to increase the brain's release of a hormone called serotonin, associated with boosting mood and helping a child feel calm and focused.
11. Increased Focus - Teachers at schools where recess was mandated have reported a significant increase in their students' ability to focus. Adding more recess has a positive impact on academic achievements as students were found to listen better after recess and be more focused in class.
Some studies have shown that the quality of recess plays a huge factor in overall benefits as well. A planned recess program can engage students in meaningful play and prepare them to learn once back in the classroom. For example, involving kids in soccer games or encouraging them to participate in activities can contribute to a “better overall school climate”.
An interesting study from Stanford discusses the importance of well-organized recess and the benefits of meaningful play. This research showed that recess is a profoundly important part of the school day. A high-quality recess program, like the ones we create at Recess Guardians, can help students feel more engaged and positive about school as well as the school day.
The benefits of unrestricted playtime in students extend across academic, social and intellectual boundaries. Elementary schools should create unique and customized playgrounds where children can use their imaginations, increase physical activity and prepare themselves to learn.