Why Recess Is Worth Fighting For

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Do kids really need recess? Would that time be better spent studying? Life as MOM contributor JessieLeigh shares her thoughts on why recess IS worth fighting for.

Why Recess Is Worth Fighting For |

Several years ago, a troubling trend gained momentum in some parts of the nation: getting rid of recess. Recess, proponents of the new plan argued, took up valuable instructional time and was part of what kept our country from excelling when compared to other nations. Faced with the inarguable evidence that our nation was “behind”, some districts decided this made sense– getting rid of recess would free up more time to prepare children for testing. Right?

Well, I’m happy to report that most schools have since determined that this was not, in fact, a great plan and it did not actually support rising test scores at all. Recess has been reinstated in many places and I’m seeing more and more parents and administrators speak up about the importance of this time in the school day.

I am firmly in the camp that believes recess is essential for kids. If I found myself in a district that did not include recess as part of the daily schedule? It’s one of the things I’d be willing to fight for. Here’s why:

Recess allows for movement and fresh air.

Children in the public school are asked to sit inside for an awful long time each day. Sure, there are some fantastic teachers who encourage stretching and movement throughout the hours, but it’s still not the same as running free outdoors. Being able to climb, run, spin, and jump freely is important for children. In some cases, this type of movement is actually essential to their being able to focus and attend for longer stretches of time.

Fresh air is good for all of us. It helps us be both more energized and relaxed at the same time– that’s pretty amazing! Getting outside also allows children to break free of breathing the same enclosed air over and over. Sunshine and fresh breezes are good for what ails you.

Why Recess Is Worth Fighting For


Recess teaches life skills.

You know what inevitably happens at recess? Squabbles. Hurt feelings. Power struggles. Drama.

Now, I realize that does not sound like a list of pro-recess arguments. But, here’s the thing– these are all part of life. It’s incredibly important for children to learn how to navigate a world full of disappointments and misunderstandings.

Children given the freedom to interact and explore at recess are also given the opportunity to learn how to both stand up for themselves and pick their battles.

This isn’t to say that adult involvement is never necessary, but the playground is a great setting for all sorts of life lessons. Not only do students learn how to manage their own difficult exchanges, but they also develop strategies for helping others. Compassion and integrity are nurtured when a child stands up for another or isn’t afraid to speak up when something is wrong.

Recess builds strong minds.

Have you ever watched children navigate a series of monkey bars, ladders, and slides? It’s really fascinating. Just like any skill or subject, it’s easier for some than others. What sounds so very simple actually involves a whole lot.

Climbing and scaling involve coordination, motor planning, problem solving, and foresight. Guess what? Those are techniques that translate over into dozens of other tasks.

Children learn to plot, plan, and control impulses in order to successfully complete a larger challenge. They gain a firmer grasp of cause and effect as they try to cut corners and realize it didn’t pan out how they’d hoped.

On the flip-side, they discover valuable time-saving short-cuts by fully analyzing the project before them and breaking it down into smaller steps. Students who can problem solve well are frequently active and successful participants in the classroom.

Recess isn’t just about having a break in the day. Even if it were, it would have value, but there’s so much more that happens during that time. Children who are given the opportunity to run, play, explore, and interact at recess are also given the opportunity to grow and excel in the classroom. As far as I’m concerned, that is time well-spent.

Other Public School Posts:

– A mother of three, including a 24 week preemie, JessieLeigh is a determined advocate for even the tiniest of babies. She can be found celebrating life’s (sometimes unexpected) miracles and blessings at Parenting Miracles.

You can read all of Jessie Leigh’s posts for Life as MOM here.

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  1. The AMA actually released a report with the conclusion that recess (or free play time as they called it) is necessary for learning and recommended 2 15-minute recesses (recommending 20 minutes so the actual play-time is 15 minutes) and a 30-minute after lunch recess for all grades K-12. The report was released sometime in the last three years (I can’t remember when exactly). I was ecstatic to see it because our children’s school did away with recess with the excuse that the student have gym class every day. The report is very clear that they are NOT interchangeable – that it’s the free play time that is necessary for learning. Taking that report in to the principal’s office was a huge help in advocating for change at our school!

    Strangely enough this applies to adults too, though we tend to forget that. 🙂

    Thanks for talking about this,

    • Ah, Lea– you are SO right! Adults benefit from recess (free play), too! Running, exploring, creating, discovering– these are things we should never really give up, in my opinion. 🙂 Thanks for the reminder!

  2. I know our Australian education system is different to America’s but I thought I would show you a typical day’s program at the school where I teach. It’s a rural school. We begin at 9:20 and have a quick 5 minute school assembly and then the whole school from Kinder to Grade 6 does a planned fitness program for 20 minutes. At 10:30 we have “fruit break” where all children eat a piece of fruit and have a chance to stretch – it only takes 5 to 10 minutes. Then we work through till 11:15 when we have recess for 25 minutes. (Usually the morning session involves Literacy). After recess we work till 1:00 with Maths and Science and maybe music on the day a specialist teacher comes. Lunch is from 1 till 2 then Silent reading from 15 to 30 minutes depending on age. This is followed by History/Geography/ Science/ Arts and Craft depending on the day till 3:20 when school finishes.
    We find this program is extremely beneficial for boys in particular because they are kept active throughout the day but works just as well for girls. Our academic and sporting results are above average compared to other schools in Australia.

  3. Caroline Bausser says:

    Great thoughts, everyone. I’m a retired teacher/high school librarian. From all my observations I know recess is good for the students of all ages; teachers need the break also. Getting outside, even in a different room for teachers, is refreshing which helps focusing on the next order of instruction. I really like Australia’s idea of starting later. Boys especially in their teens need extra sleep, so for them to get an extra hour of sleep in the morning helps in their development.

  4. Not to mention that childhood obesity is the number one health issue among American children. We expect children to sit from 8 am to 3 pm and then come home and spend another hour or two doing homework. Then we wonder why they have trouble maintaining a healthy weight. I grew up as a latchkey child in an apartment building without any green space. I have struggled with my weight my entire life. I work very hard to ensure that my children get plenty of exercise outside of school hours.

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