- As educators look to strike a balance between rigorous academics and time for socializing and play, at least five states have mandatory recess laws at the elementary level, while seven others require elementary schools to have daily physical activity. Several other states, including Massachusetts and Arkansas, are also expected to consider recess laws this year, Edutopia reports.
- Recess was long considered a staple element of elementary education, but when No Child Left Behind went into effect, it began to disappear under the more intense focus on testing and core subjects. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Edutopia notes, one-third of elementary schools had eliminated recess across all grades.
- However, a growing body of research concerning the physical, cognitive, mental and social benefits of recess are convincing more lawmakers and educators of its necessity. Advocacy groups, such as the National PTA and the American Academy of Pediatrics have also voiced their support of recess requirements for kids as necessary in promoting physical and social-emotional activities.
In recent years, more state legislatures have come to realize what elementary school teachers and parents have long enforced through built-in recess periods — children need time to play. Most school hours are spent in learning activities that require students to be relatively still and quiet, and at some point, it becomes harder for them to concentrate and focus without any breaks. Research has shown that if kids have to wait longer for a break, they become less attentive and more antsy, but when given a break for play, their attention spans bounced back once they returned to the classroom.
In the wake of the death of recess at some schools — a byproduct of the No Child Left Behind regulations — more research has highlighted the benefits of recess as well as physical education. Children need physical activity to remain fit and healthy, but they also need unstructured play time to regulate emotion, strengthen memory, promote a normal sleep schedule and digest what they've learned in the classroom. Under Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) regulations, physical activity is considered part of a well-rounded education.
States and school districts play a role in meeting children’s physical need for exercise. According to Active Living Research, scheduling time for physical education during the school day study can “help more students meet national recommendations for physical activity."
Recess also helps students with social-emotional learning, as it is one of the few times during the day children can interact with one another freely. During group play, children learn how to collaborate, socialize and regulate their own emotions. Recess not only allows kids to relieve stress accumulated during hours of study, but it also leads to a better school climate, according to a report by Stanford University.
Another impact of recess is cognitive benefits for students, who learn better and are more focused when they return to the classroom. Experiments have shown that play can stimulate growth of the cerebral cortex, improve memory and trigger the secretion of BDNF, a substance necessary for the growth of brain cells. It also improves cognitive processing, which is most effective when there's a period of interruption after a period of concentration.
A 2013 statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics sums up the need for recess: Safe and well-supervised recess, it says, “offers cognitive, social, emotional, and physical benefits that may not be fully appreciated when a decision is made to diminish it.” The statement also notes 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.”
While the benefits of recess are plentiful, some school administrators are still reluctant to make it a regular part of the school day or to increase its time frame, as this takes away from class time and can present liability risks, such as potential bullying or injuries that could occur. Seen Magazine notes a 2010 Gallup poll, which revealed that 89% of discipline-related problems took place during recess. And, as noted in a report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, this time of day is when schools have the biggest behavior management challenges. For recess to reach its full potential, children should have adequate supervision or the experience may do more harm than good.