Play is an often-underrated part of childhood. When I was a child, recess helped my friends and I form our imaginations. It provided our minds with a break from learning. The physical activity influenced our brains cognitively and socially. The American Academy of Pediatrics agrees that recess is critical to a child’s development.
Today’s students have become accustomed to being glued to their seats for hours at a time. The only recess many students have daily is a 10- to 15-minute break after lunch, if they’re lucky. Today we also have more fidgety students who act up in the classroom, and parents often assume their child has ADHD.
Physical activity and recess have been proven to assist students’ learning and help them function at their best level. Recently, Eagle Mountain Elementary in Fort Worth added 30 minutes of recess time daily—15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the afternoon. Although teachers were worried about the loss of instructional time, results have shown major improvement in students’ behavior and learning. Parents also saw an improvement in their children, socially and creatively.
Last year, I noticed the need for recess more than ever, and I too fell into the trap of taking away recess as a punishment. Its consequences were evident.
My class of 14 boys and eight girls, along with the rest of the kindergarten class, had many days of no recess, due to inclement weather, not enough staff, or events like state testing. I witnessed many of my students fidgeting and losing focus. The days were tiresome, and their inability to play caused their attention to fade. A few times, I awarded my students with outside play. On those days, they were always more prepared for listening. They were able to sit and learn without interruption.
In the article “Recess in Elementary School: What Does the Research Say?” author Olga S. Jarrett found that recess had numerous cognitive, social-emotional, and physical benefits:
- Recess helps students, particularly those with ADHD, stay on task.
- Physical activity helps students develop brain connections.
- Devoting time to nonacademic activities (art, music, and physical activity) improves attitudes and fitness and slightly increases test scores, even when students spend less time on academics.
- The brain cannot maintain attention for long periods of time. Recess gives students necessary breaks to help their brains regroup. A change (such as a new location) will also help students regain focus.
- When children play on the playground, they practice their leadership and negotiation skills and learn to resolve conflicts.
- Recess helps improve children’s attitudes and fitness levels.
Children only get one chance to be children. And they only get one chance to experience the brain development that can happen in that time, if we allow it. Active play helps students manage stress. Inhibiting play only hinders their minds from growing effectively.
Teachers, administrators, and school staff, please know how crucial recess can be for a productive classroom. Let’s stop taking recess away as punishment. Surely, we can find other consequences for poor behavior.
Christine Jasso is a first-grade teacher in Weslaco ISD.