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If We Want Smarter Kids, They Need Recess

Over the years, there have been numerous debates over recess and the role of schools in promoting the optimal development of the child. There has been a growing trend towards reallocating time in school to classroom teaching on academic subjects. It is important to note that recess serves as a necessary break from the rigours of concentrated academic challenges in school. 

But it is equally important to provide a safe and well-supervised recess as it offers cognitive, emotional, social, and physical benefits that may not fully be appreciated when a decision is made to reduce it. Recess is a complement to physical education, not a substitute for it. Health Canada believes that recess is a necessary and crucial component of a child’s all-round development and, it should for no reason, be withheld for academic or punitive reasons.

But even though free play is identified as an important activity, it is on the decline in North America. As Peter Gray, a Professor of Psychology at Boston College, told The Atlantic: "Since about 1955 ... children's free play has been continually declining, at least partly because adults have exerted ever-increasing control over children's activities”.  According to one survey, 96 percent of elementary schools had at least one recess period in 1989, yet just a decade later, only 70 percent of kindergarten classrooms had any recess periods at all.

How Can Recess Make Your Child Smarter?

Aside from genetics, what majorly influences your child's IQ is good nutrition, protection from toxins and plenty of playtime and exercise nurtures a child's intelligence. Children learn a tremendous amount through everyday recess: playing freely with other children, creating stories together, and by finding solutions to problems they face. All these activities help make a child more clever and smart. 

Many child development experts now focus on helping children reach their full intellectual potential, but without adding too much academic pressure. Pediatric experts are of the opinion that close relationships with teachers and parents during growing years are important. Critical to social and emotional development, attachment also helps build a smart child. Connecting with teachers in school helps a child's brain develop, making them smarter because neurons get connected through social connection and language. 

Whether it’s organized sports or just free play in the playground at recess, children need physical activity to stimulate their senses. A study by the University of Illinois concluded that fit and smart children perform better academically. They also develop higher levels of confidence and self-esteem. The freedom to move and play outside during recess inspires creativity and improves brain function.

Improving Recess

To restore recess, many are making efforts to improve supervision and the equipment available to students.

Creating an inviting recess area helps. Dr. Melinda Bossenmeyer of Peaceful Playgrounds notes that modern play structures can cost around $150,000, blacktop can easily be painted for $5,000, which creates an inviting and lively play area. A special education teacher or supervisor could be present to supervise the students. This kind of approach can cut down on behaviour problems. For example, kids should try to include everyone in games; this teaches them to communicate rather than fight to settle disputes.

That is why I created Recess Guardians in 2008.  When I visited schools, I found that instead of playing with games, children were glued to their screens (Game Boys back then).  So I worked to design a recess program that would reintroduce daily play while teaching kids leadership skills.  

It's critical that children have time to play on their own which is free from all adult parameters. To a layman, recess might seem like a waste of time when one could spend teaching lessons in class to achieve better academic results. However, in the process, children are losing the opportunity to develop their imagination and critical thinking skills. 

We need to be hopeful that the tide may be turning in support of play. But a positive part of the story is that some people are waking up to the importance of recess.

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