Melissa Arca: Recess important part of kids' education

01/10/2013 12:00 AM

02/26/2013 8:10 PM

Ask children what their favorite subject is in school, and the answer you'll most often hear is "recess." At least it's the answer I most often hear from my children and from many of the children I see in clinic.

Kids are pretty smart, and loving recess is not simply child's play. Those 20- minute increments of unstructured free play are imperative to their academic, social and emotional success. The importance of recess extends far beyond the physical (which is a good side effect), as children typically return from recess with the increased ability to pay attention and complete complex tasks.

So why are more U.S. schools cutting back on it and perhaps withholding it altogether?

Based on the most current research, only three states (Delaware, Virginia, and Nebraska) adhere to 20 minutes of mandatory recess per day in elementary schools. In other states, it varies greatly and is rapidly becoming a rare commodity especially when many parents and administrators withhold it as punishment.

And according to ongoing research with findings published in the most recent American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement, we should definitely be protecting recess as a sacred free time for kids to decompress and recharge.

It certainly makes sense. Any parent knows when kids need to get up and get outside. Twenty minutes of fresh air, unstructured free play and physical activity is good for the body, brain and behavior.

Instead of withholding recess as a form of punishment, we should actually be prescribing it. Research has identified clear benefits of recess for all children, particularly in the context of attentiveness, cognitive skills and behavior during classroom time. In addition, children with ADHD who are denied recess for whatever reason had poorer behavior and cognitive function on those days.

Kids need to decompress and play. It's just as important as reading, writing and math. Recess actually complements and positively boosts the outcomes of academic pursuits.

Just the other day when my two kids were roaming around the house and picking fights with each other, I realized they hadn't been outside all day. My husband and I joked that we hadn't run them for the day. We headed to the park and everyone returned refreshed and calm, and the sibling squabbles were saved for another day.

Kids love recess, and we should nurture and encourage the love for something that is incredibly good for them. More than that, though, we have a job as parents and educators to protect recess. For it's not merely a privilege afforded to the best schools and most well-behaved students; it's a childhood right that will do wonders not only for their academic success but for their social and emotional well-being.

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