What’s the Deal with Recess in School

In 1996, 96% of schools in the United States had recess. 

In 2002, 79% of schools in the United States had recess.

By 2012, only 40% of schools in the United States report having recess (source)

What's the deal with recess_Hero

The trend seems to be driven by the idea that if we can make our children spend more time in the classroom, they will be smarter, learn more, get into a better college and get a better job when they grow up. From the time I was very young, I’ve heard politicians and media preaching the idea that other countries are ahead of us in math and science, bending the stats to back up their statements.  Then, in the same breath they advocate less recess and PE, and more classroom time.  If we can just get our kids to sit still for a bit longer, they will learn more……

In 2003, 7.8% of children were diagnosed with ADHD

In 2007, 9.5% of children were diagnosed with ADHD

By 2011, 11.0% of children were diagnosed with ADHD (source)

In many schools, the punishment for misbehavior is to take away recess.  So let’s take energetic kids, and make them sit still even more.  Yeah, that should work! Kids naturally have a lot of energy, and many studies show that a child will have greater focus after physical activity.  In fact studies show that replacing academic time with recess or PE actually IMPROVES academic test scores (1,3)

In 1980, 7% of children were obese

By 2012, 18% of children were obese (source)

Now, we cannot blame the disappearing recess solely for the rise in ADHD and childhood obesity, but there is an obvious correlation.   Childhood Type II diabetes is also rising at an alarming rate, driven by obesity, lack of activity and poor food choices.

In elementary school, I had a 15-minute recess in the morning, a 45-minute lunch recess, and then another 15-minute recess in the afternoon.  Contrasting my experiences as a child with that of my own children, they currently have a 30-minute recess around lunchtime.   That’s it.  Last year the school tried to cut it back to 20 minutes and there was enough backlash that administrators relented and went back to the 30-minute version.

The unstructured social environment of recess is where we learn how to get along with others, make decisions about how to use their time, play fairly, wait our turn, stand up for ourselves, burn off energy, manage stress, develop motor skills and other physical attributes, and even  get smarter.  I think we can all think of adults that could have used a little more recess to develop those attributes as well.  Hey, maybe we should just have recess all day, and take a few breaks for academics. 

  1. (3) Dawn Podulka Coe, et al. Effect of Physical Education and Activity Levels on Academic Achievement in Children. In Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. August 2006. Vol. 38. No. 8.Pp. 1515-1519.

My wife would like to add:

I’m grateful that our elementary school has great “specials” activities each day that rotate from Music, Art, and Wellness (P.E.). My 1st grade daughters teacher also does a daily “brain break” where they turn up some fun music and dance around to get the wiggles out.

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