Updated: Feb 3
Recess during the school day had a different meaning for children four to five decades ago. This coveted break allowed kids to play outdoors together typically for a 20-minute period in the morning and another 20 minutes in the afternoon. And although teachers kept an eye on children, they would seldom interfere with their activities. Recess was a time for all students to get away from academic tasks and recharge. However, as the years have gone by the concept of recess has slowly begun to change as many schools have cut down on it to make room for more class time.
Psychologists suggest that children release excess energy, or "blow off steam" after a long time in the classroom. On-task attention can be increased by providing opportunities for diversion, which makes recess a must. If a child needs to tolerate repeated periods of "seat work" they will automatically feel mental fatigue and restlessness, and subsequent reduction in concentration.
When kids step outdoors for recess, they feel refreshed by interacting with their classmates in different situations. Studies have suggested that playground behaviour is directly related to the attention a child pays in the classroom. Rigorous physical exercise during recess increases a child’s attention to various cognitive tasks in class and is therefore an important element of classroom management and behaviour guidance.
Recess and Social Implications
Recess encourages all areas of children's behavioural development. As kids interact, they learn to use language and nonverbal communication; they also learn to make decisions and solve problems and learn to deal with emotional interactions with friends.
Recess is one of the few times during school hours when kids are free to exhibit a wide range of social competencies like sharing, cooperation and an exchange of positive and negative language among peers. It is at recess that the playground becomes one of the few places where kids can actually enforce meaningful social interaction. Without recess, kids lose out on an important educational experience.
The educational role of recess for both cognitive and social development in children are becoming increasingly clear. In simple terms, children must function in both social and cognitive domains if they are to successfully adapt to school and society as a whole, both of which are closely related to each other. Social interaction facilitates awareness in children, and recess (indoor and outdoor) offers the opportunity for this growth.
A playground is a place where children can actively confront, interact and learn from meaningful social experiences. Interactive games help children learn to cooperate and also teaches them to solve problems in different forms of play. They realize that in order to play fair, they must take turns while playing the game. This reciprocating role not only teaches kids to cooperate but to also view events from different perspectives, proving to be a valuable educational experience.
Changing Attitudes Toward Recess
Recess was once a regular and active part of the school day, today it is just seen as a mere break or a way to get some physical exercise for kids. As a result, opportunities for social interchanges among children have become minimal. Today, many schools restrict talking among children during class, lunch and when standing in line to go anywhere, leaving recess to be the only time left when children can interact without adult restriction or intervention. This makes school recess more vital than ever for the social and cognitive development of kids.
A few decades ago, the vast majority of children came home from school and played in backyards and neighbourhood playgrounds with friends. This supported the fact that children had plenty of time after school and long hours of play subsequently promoted total development. Today, however, many children have restricted play experiences after school because they indulge in playing video games or excessive television viewing. Many who are at home alone in the afternoons are restricted to solitary indoor activity. Moreover, growing urbanization has slowly squeezed out natural play spaces used by children, while "formal" play spaces like parks and community school playgrounds are often considered unappealing and unsafe because of old equipment and lack of maintenance.
Children of today should have the same opportunities for free play and social development, as did children of past generations. Our kids are at risk of losing their right to play, and school recess stands as the only guaranteed time for them to actually not be able to do so.
Unfortunately, too many adults who influence childhood curricula and school schedules do not understand the value and importance of recess as a time to play. Many parents and teachers consider recess as a waste of time. These policymakers have too little an understanding of how powerful recess and related experiences can be to a child's overall development, growth and educational journey.
Middle and elementary schools that alternate studying with frequent periods of play and physical activity help students maintain attention, make learning more enjoyable and create cooperative and positive attitudes toward academics. While social interaction, free play and extracurricular activities may not contribute directly to academic success, they still make the school environment more interesting and pleasant.
Strategies For Advocating Recess
Several strategies can be used to promote recess in schools.
Educate administrators. Provide your school principal with articles that advocate the virtues of recess. Highlight the benefits and talk to your principal about your school's recesses.
Educate the faculty. Discuss these issues with them, and when you think a good number of teachers are sympathetic, ask to put the importance of recess during a faculty meeting.
Educate parents. Parents have a tremendous influence on whether recess should be included within the curriculum. Hold a parent meeting to convince them of the value of free play and the recess play experience.
Provide in-class recesses. While you may be unable to change the schedules of the entire school, you can probably change your classroom's schedule to include an indoor recess. To encourage children's social development, allow them plenty of freedom and space to play in small groups. Give them regular opportunities to choose their own activities in the classroom and let them talk on the topic.
Write letters and publish pieces. Share ideas about the value of recess in newsletters to parents, and letters to editors of local newspapers. Children can write their own letters on the subject too.
Speak out. Talking one-to-one with parents, other teachers, and administrators, and writing letters will give you the experience and confidence you need to become a spokesperson for recess. Practice conversational, and persuasive comments about the value of recess so that you will be ready to give an interview if needed, in which case you can also prepare a fact sheet with a few basic points about the value of recess to give to the reporter.
Recess sets the occasion for play and subsequent social encounters that influence and nurture all other areas of development. It is more than evident that recess is an important counter to rigorous academic curricula and expectations for good behaviour. It also allows teachers to observe and evaluate children's social interactions and behaviour and then be able to respond accordingly. Recess offers children a chance to be children and is not something that should be taken away from them.