Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Facts about Recess and Academics

Why Recess is Important and how it helps Academics

Recess is being scaled back or eliminated from many elementary schools. Among the reasons are increased pressure for higher academic scores. 

But at what cost? Are scores increasing as recess decreases? 

No. In fact, studies are concluding that physical activity can improve cognitive learning, increase neuron connections, and decrease inappropriate behavior in the classroom, as well as the obvious benefit of improving physical health.

Remember when we had three recesses a day - one in the morning, one after lunch and one in the afternoon? Esther Entin, M.D. states "Since the late 1970's children have lost 12 hours a week in free time, a 25% decrease in play and 50% decrease in unstructured outdoor activities." The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's physical activity guidelines recommend that children do an hour or more of moderate-intensity to vigorous activity a day. The Institute of Medicine advises that at least 30 minutes, or about half the daily physical activity, be done during the school day. Yet only about 11 percent of states and 57 percent of districts require elementary schools to provide students with regularly scheduled recess, according to CDC.
Research confirms that recess can play an important role in the learning, social development, and health of elementary school children.

Physical Activity Affects the Following
  • Overweight and obesity
  • HDL cholesterol
  • Blood pressure
  • Insulin resistance
  • Skeletal health
  • Musculoskeletal injuries
  • Psychological well-being
  • Self-esteem
  • Anxiety and depression

 Benefits of Recess:

How Physical Activity Improves Academics:

JAMA Pediatrics confirms that "participation in physical activity is positively related to academic performance in children." In addition to the positive physical and mental health impact of regular participation in physical activity, it is also linked to enhancement of brain function and cognition, thereby positively influencing academic performance. The increase in growth factors caused by exercise helps create new nerve cells and supports neurological development.

Exercise directly impacts the behavior and development of the brain. “It is likely that the effects of physical activity on cognition would be particularly important in the highly plastic developing brains of youth,” according to Charles Basch of Columbia University. Exercise affects executive functioning in the following ways:
  • Increased blood and oxygen flow to the brain
  • Increased brain neurotransmitters
  • Increased levels of endorphins which decrease stress and improves mood
  • Increased brain-derived neurotrophins that support creation of new nerve cells and assure the survival of neurons in areas responsible for learning, memory, and higher thinking.

Recess provides a critical change of pace and a recharging of energy, which then benefits learning by making the children less fidgety and more attentive to academic tasks. The American Academy of Pediatrics states "Recess is a necessary break in the day for optimizing a child’s social, emotional, physical, and cognitive development. In essence, recess should be considered a child’s personal time, and it should not be withheld for academic or punitive reasons."  

Negative Effects of Recess:
A child may get hurt on the playground. 
Response: A child may get hurt anywhere. Let them play!
Related Post: Stop Bullying: It Starts at Home

Play is a child's work.


A little girl had just finished her first week of
school. "I'm just wasting my time," she said
to her mother. "I can't read, I can't write,
and they won't let me talk!"

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  1. Awesome! Fantastic! Stellar!
    Kudos to you, Susan! This post is unbelievable. You have hit every important point as to why recess and play are crucial for young children.
    This will provide wonderful talking points for the #springingintoeducation Profile of an Educator hangout on Tuesday.:)

    1. Thank you so much Vivian. As educators, we know the importance of play - hoping to give parents and teachers some resources to prove this point.

  2. I hope you've submitted this to chat with Mrs. Obama Fireside too, thank you for expressing how important recess is to our children and how tests are impacting them more than we realize. Can't wait for your HOA, I'll be there!

    1. Kim - thank you so much. Educators and parents know that play is good for children - and we all know they need the physical exercise. Hoping this post helps. "Peaceful Playground: Right to Recess Campaign" is filled with documentation.

  3. Too many of our problems--adults and children--are because we've become too sedentary. I hope this doesn't happen. Besides, recess was my favorite part of the day and seems to be my little kindergartener son's too :).

    Recess Stays!!

    1. Recess is the most favorite part of the day for most children because they have the opportunities to move, talk, play, socialize and make friendships. Thank you so much for visiting J.

  4. You are so right, I have always encouraged outdoor play for my children. There is nothing worse than a rainy school day when the children have been kept indoors. The first thing mine do when they get home is go out regardless of the weather and I encourage this.

    1. Thank you so much for visiting. You have a very interesting blog. We have chickens and guineas.

  5. This is a great article! Thank you for pulling all the facts ans stats together and posting them. A 2009 study in the Journal of School Health found that the more physical activity tests children can pass, the more likely they are to do well on academic tests. That suggests unrelenting classroom time may not be the best way to improve test scores and learning. With that said, #play IS important!

    1. It saddens me that children aren't allowed to relax and release stress through much play at school. Adults have breaks at work - even teachers. Young children are not geared to sit most of day doing paper work. Thank you so much for visiting. I'll have to find that journal article you mentioned.

  6. Fascinating article! Any ideas on how to advocate for more recess in our kids' schools?


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