Most parents cringe in the office or at the park when their child reports to me that recess is their favorite subject. Thing is, I think they may want to celebrate. Some of our best thinking, our most inventive or creative solution generation, happens when moving around outside. Research has validated the merits of play and movement for learning during the past decade and educators and pediatricians have risen up to exalt the time our children spend twirling around between math and social studies. It’s time to get excited about recess before we lose focus that it’s not just healthy weight we’re fighting for — this is about promoting healthy minds, bountiful creativity, and skills for connection too.
Tips To Advocate For Protected Recess & Play
- White Space: I think of recess as a part of the white space we serve up for our children in life. That time and space to dream, elaborate, and enjoy whimsy in our minds. We cannot forget the value that reflection and exercise has on the creative process. When talking with your school educators and when designing a day with children make sure there are “pockets of stillness” (see #4 here on Brain Pickers) but also white space for loud iteration. No question in my mind that movement aids learning. Think of all the things you discover while going for a walk, a run or even the epiphanies you discover while taking a shower.
- Join Forces: PTA/Lunch & Recess Matter Group. Band together with like-minded parents and educators. In the Puget Sound area, for example, only the Tacoma School District mandates a certain amount of time for recess and play. Join forces with Lunch & Recess Matter Group to re-prioritize this play and learning if it’s not happening at your school.
- Social and emotional well-being matter (more on this later this week): Although we all want our children to have an education that affords endless opportunity (we want our children ready to be brain surgeons, artists, stay at home parents, educators, or entrepreneurs), we must remember how the time spent while playing and relating with peers may be most essential to creating pluripotent opportunity.
Data On Recess And Play
- Limited Play Time Starts Early: With shift in focus, outside play time — even for preschoolers — has diminished and been de-prioritized lending to the unintended consequence of less physical activity. Research from 2012 found that preschool educators have moved away from time outside for young children due to concerns about injury, a focus on “academics,” and financial restraints (those climbers are spendy). With 3/4 of preschoolers spending time outside their homes in child care centers and preschool this has big impact. Preschoolers spend 70 to 80% of their time sedentary when at child care. That’s a staggering statistic when you think that this is the group of our population we typically think of as running on an engine that never stops.
- Recess Time Is High intensity But Perhaps Not Long Enough: The Center for Public Education found that nationwide the average amount of time in recess in 2006 was 24-30 minutes. Time may be dwindling for this play. There are no federal laws protecting recess time and Washington state has no state policy that requires recess in schools. In Seattle, for example, it’s been reported there are at least 11 schools that have less than 20 minutes of recess time every day.
- Value of play and recess extends past physical benefit: In their 2012 policy, The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly states, “Recess is unique from, and a complement to, physical education—not a substitute for it. The American Academy of Pediatrics believes that recess is a crucial and necessary component of a child’s development and, as such, it should not be withheld for punitive or academic reasons.” Children learn to conquer fear, engage with the world around them and think creatively when playing. This learning from play is essential to their cognitive, physical, social and emotional well-being.
Paul Schoenfeld says
Excellent post! I am very concerned about how sedentary children have become! It is a growing problem that leads to obesity and all of the health problems that come with it.
But what about kids who hate recess? These may be kids who aren’t athletic or coordinated. They get picked last for kickball. They often feel marginalized. Some kids are bullied too. There is frequently a lack of adult supervision. How should parents handle that situation?
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, MBE says
Hi Paul, thanks for your comment.
You bring up the challenges, in social-emotional in nature of recess. There is some writing in the policy statement about structured recess activities (click through to read more about it–where a teacher or coach facilitates and helps kids navigate the social complexities of game playing). Also I believe recess lives as a part of the SEL (social-emotional-learning) components in an education structure. In my children’s school SEL is a part of every week (support, training for students, exercises) and recess can be included in that to support, nurture, and foster skills for those challenges. My belief is there has to be a no-tolerance policy for bullying…
Jana Robbins says
Thank you SO much for bringing attention to and advocating for healthy amounts of recess and play! Recess is a low priority in districts all across the nation in this climate of academic rigor as top priority. Too easily it is forgotten that recess and PE and lunch actually support academic outcomes, rather than take away. Kids know it intuitively, because it’s what their bodies and minds crave. Thank you for honoring their needs.
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, MBE says
Hi Jana, thanks. Clearly It’s my privilege to learn about this and share my learning. One of the points I loved in the policy statement is the notation that in Japan they have children learn in 40-50 minute breaks and then have a “recess” for about 10 minutes, every hour, based on studies that attention duration doesn’t exceed 45 minutes or so.
We can support children in so many ways that we don’t and we’ll keep improving it, I hope.