Why some schools are sending kids out for recess four times a day

A new program called the LiiNK Project connects play and character development and is designed to bridge academics with the social, emotional and physical well-being of children. The program started in the 2015-2016 school year with four schools in Texas that used the program and four other schools that served as controls. Although it’s too early for definitive results, the short-term ones look promising.

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The Death of Recess in America

As the imperative to squeeze every last drop of instructional time out of the school day has intensified, we have become increasingly committed to the premise that students learn best when drilled constantly with information. This premise is, of course, drawn entirely from the groundbreaking therapy used to psychologically destroy the main character from A Clockwork Orange.

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Why Recess is important: The role of recess in child development

Children and adolescents need increased opportunities to participate together in both structured and unstructured play. In addition to the classroom-specific benefits, opportunities for play through participation in leisure and recreation activities, including recess, have been linked to more generalized benefits, such as enhanced self-esteem and self-confidence, the ability to combat negative peer pressure, enhanced quality of life, and increased social acceptance and integration into the community. Read more.

The Role of Recess in Children’s Cognitive Performance and School Adjustment

The authors suggest that the recess period serves a positive purpose in the primary school curriculum, counter to the current practice of minimizing recess in many schools across North America and the United Kingdom. The authors' position is embedded in the larger debate about school accountability; they argue that school policy should be based on the best theory and empirical evidence available. They support their argument for the importance of recess with theory and with experimental and longitudinal data showing how recess breaks maximize children's cognitive performance and adjustment to school. Read more.

The Benefits of Recess in Primary School

Although recess has traditionally been a regular practice in primary school settings, today recess is being reduced or eliminated in an effort to provide more instructional time and increase achievement. However, empirical research does not support the elimination or reduction of recess. Research documents that recess affords many physical, cognitive, and social benefits for primary school children. These benefits have a positive effect on classroom behavior and achievement. In the current era of evidence-based practice, it is important to utilize empirical research when making decisions regarding educational policy. Read more.

Study: Children’s classroom behavior is better if they have recess

Recess provides one of the few opportunities for children to engage in free play and physical activity at school and to potentially be outdoors. Barros and colleagues investigated the amount of recess 8- to 9-year-old children have in the U.S. and compared the classroom behavior of children who receive and do not receive daily recess. The researchers analyzed data from a nationally representative sample of over 10,000 third-grade children in public and private schools.  In examining school behavior, Barros and colleagues found that teachers’ rating of overall classroom behavior was better for children with some recess as compared to those with none/minimal break, however, the frequency and amount of recess was not significant. This study provides valuable information about the amount of recess 8- to 9-year-old children receive and relationships to classroom behavior.

Children’s classroom behavior is better if they have recess


Recess: It’s Important!

Recess advocates include the American Association for the Child’s Right to Play, the National Association for Sport and Physical Association, even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Besides the opportunity to get exercise, proponents say, recess offers social and emotional benefits as children dream up ideas and resolve conflicts during play.


The Crucial Role of Recess

The American Academy of Pediatrics' (AAP)  position paper on “The Crucial Role of Recess,” describing the numerous benefits recess provides for children. The AAP recommends that all children partake in daily, supervised recess (AAP, 2013). Access to recess is important for all children, not only those who are typically developing but also those with special needs such as IDD. Minimizing or eliminating recess may be counterproductive to academic achievement, as a growing body of evidence suggests that recess promotes not only physical health and social development but also cognitive performance. Although recess and physical education both promote activity and a healthy lifestyle, it is only supervised but unstructured recess that offers children the opportunity to actually play creatively.

There is consensus about the need for regularly scheduled recess based on national guidelines, even though the length of the recess period has not been firmly established. In schools, the length specified for recess ranges widely, from 20 to 60 minutes per day. In other countries, such as Japan, primary school-aged children have a 10- to 15-minute break every hour, and this is thought to reflect the fact that attention spans begin to wane after 40 to 50 minutes of intense instruction.


How Kids Learn Better By Taking Frequent Breaks Throughout The Day


Excerpted from Teach Like Finland: 33 Simple Strategies For Joyful Classrooms (c) 2017 by Timothy D. Walker. Used with permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton. 


Like a zombie, Sami—one of my fifth graders—lumbered over to me and hissed, “I think I’m going to explode! I’m not used to this schedule.” And I believed him. An angry red rash was starting to form on his forehead.

Yikes, I thought, what a way to begin my first year of teaching in Finland. It was only the third day of school, and I was already pushing a student to the breaking point. When I took him aside, I quickly discovered why he was so upset.

Throughout this first week of school, I had gotten creative with my fifth grade timetable. If you recall, students in Finland normally take a fifteen-minute break for every forty-five minutes of instruction. During a typical break, the children head outside to play and socialize with friends.

I didn’t see the point of these frequent pit stops. As a teacher in the United States, I’d usually spent consecutive hours with my students in the classroom. And I was trying to replicate this model in Finland. The Finnish way seemed soft, and I was convinced that kids learned better with longer stretches of instructional time. So I decided to hold my students back from their regularly scheduled break and teach two forty-five-minute lessons in a row, followed by a double break of thirty minutes. Now I knew why the red dots had appeared on Sami’s forehead.

Come to think of it, I wasn’t sure if the American approach had ever worked very well. My students in the States had always seemed to drag their feet after about forty-five minutes in the classroom. But they’d never thought of revolting like this shrimpy Finnish fifth grader, who was digging in his heels on the third day of school. At that moment, I decided to embrace the Finnish model of taking breaks.

Once I incorporated these short recesses into our timetable, I no longer saw feet-dragging, zombie-like kids in my classroom. Throughout the school year, my Finnish students would, without fail, enter the classroom with a bounce in their steps after a fifteen-minute break. And most important, they were more focused during lessons.

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