Whatever Happened to Recess?

Whatever Happened to Recess?

recessThe sounds of elementary school children playing at recess are hard to mistake for anything other than what they are; kids simply being kids. The laughter, yelling, running, jumping, flirting, and even the bloody noses and scraped knees incurred during those wonderful 30 minutes of unrestricted play time have been a crucial part of growing up for millions of U.S, children. The skills learned during those half hour periods of outdoor activities have served to provide many of us with the social skills needed to excel later in life. Recess is a wonderful, valuable, part of school and childhood in general, so it’s a bit worrisome that recess, as most of us knew it anyway, barely exists anymore.

Why Do Kids Need Recess?

The benefits of unstructured activity for younger children are well known and well documented. Ask any early childhood educator, and they will tell you that they’d much rather teach a class that has had a chance to “get the wiggles out”, over one that is forced to remain stationary for the duration of the school day. Recess, even a short one, serves to reduce stress, increase late-afternoon focus, and provide much needed exercise. The social benefits inherent to children getting to interact freely with other children are also myriad and too important to overlook.

So Why No More Recess?

Recess doesn’t require much in the way of resources. Send a few kids out to a vacant lot to play and, odds are, they’ll eventually find an ingenious way to entertain themselves. The problem lies in the simple fact that a vast number of American Schools simply can’t afford to dedicate the required time. That’s not necessarily to say that they don’t have the time, but rather that they’re already so short staffed due to funding cuts that they simply can’t afford to pay teachers not to teach.

Paying a teacher to stand around and supervise kids while they play on a jungle gym has, unfortunately, been deemed an unnecessary expense by many school boards and administrators. In a time when funding is often reliant upon test scores, cash strapped schools simply can’t afford to not make every minute at school count.

The decision to shorten or eliminate recess altogether is generally recognized by the school boards and administrators who have to make these decisions as less than ideal, but they often feel their hands have been forced. Unfortunately, no recess makes for kids who simply don’t learn as well and by eliminating recess, school administration may have increased the amount of time dedicated to learning core subjects, but the quality of that learning time has been severely decreased.

The Short Term Solution

There is no doubt among early childhood educators that kids need exercise and play time, the debate is simply when those activities should occur. An honest look at school funding in the U.S. does not paint a promising picture. It’s unlikely that schools are suddenly going to be able to re-implement recess to the level that many of us experienced when we were growing up. So what is to be done? The best short-term solution is to make sure your kids get plenty of exercise whenever they can. Limit television and video game time and get your kids outside. If they simply can’t be pried away from the television or Xbox, get them playing an active game that requires them to at least get up off of the couch. Work out with your kids. You don’t have to go to the gym with them, just set aside a few minutes each day to do some jumping-jacks, or push-ups. The important thing is that if kids aren’t going to get the benefits of recess at school anymore, they are at least provided with as close of an approximation to that experience as possible at home.

The Long Term Solution

There is no simple solution to the lack of funding many of our school are faced with, but the benefits of recess, play time, snack time, and all of the other activities that make school fun for children are too important to get completely eliminated in the name of funding. Schools need to create a balance between academics, and the activities that make it possible for kids to effectively concentrate and excel at those academics. Encouraging school administrators to keep recess in the curriculum and electing school boards that recognize the value of recess are just two relatively easy steps that we can take to begin restoring recess for our children.