Any parent knows the importance of recess. When your kids are playing, running around, making up new creative games, and taking turns on the swing, you can hear joy in their laughter and see it in their smiles. But recess is more than just kids having fun–it makes kids smarter, and in more ways than one.
1 The cognitive effects, first of all, are astounding. General intelligence itself–along with reading and math achievement–has been linked to the benefits of recess in several studies. Studies have also demonstrated that kids who play more have better linguistic skills–which improves their ability to understand what others say and to express themselves. And imaginative play, such as pretend play, helps with reasoning and creative problem solving. Understanding, expression, reasoning, problem solving–these are all skills needed for any academic task. Most importantly, regulated breaks make it easier for students to focus once they’re back in the classroom. Many studies have demonstrated that, when working continuously, students’ brains become less efficient.
Just take a look at an extreme example: Finnish schools. Finland has the highest global test scores of any Western nation, and one of the highest literary ratings in the world. Why? For every hour taught, kids have a mandatory 15-minute free-play break. In East Asia, where students outperform the rest of the world, 10-minute breaks are usually given every 40 minutes. Here in the States, the LiiNK Project, which added extra recess to schools schedules, led to a significant improvement not only in focus but in academic performance in reading and math.
2 Emotional intelligence is another important benefit of recess. Playing outdoors with others helps kids develop their social and initiation skills, and makes them more creative–which is key to an enriching social life. Children learn how to interact with their peers and the importance of relationships with others. By playing pretend games, as well, children can practice skills that they later apply to real life situations–which means that they are better prepared for challenges they come across not only in school but in their social lives. And there’s a correlation, too, between pretend play and the ability to self-regulate impulses and emotions.
What does all this mean? Well, according to The American Academy of Pediatrics, ‘through play at recess, children learn valuable communication skills, including negotiation, cooperation, sharing, and problem solving as well as coping skills, such as perseverance and self-control. These skills become fundamental, lifelong personal tools.’ There is countless research that shows that schools with programs focused on emotional intelligence has both immediate and long-term positive impacts on students–yet another reason why recess is so important.
3 Classroom behavior improves with recess too, which means students can concentrate better on their academic tasks. If students are behaving better in class, then this means that they’ll be able to pay more attention in class, and it also means that teachers will be able to spend more time teaching than disciplining bad behavior. It’s been demonstrated that the longer students have to wait for recess, they’ll be less attentive, productive, and efficient.
According to a study published in Pediatrics: Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, behavior scores were higher for students who had recess than those who did not. The more recess a child gets, the better behaved the child is, too–even after controlling for socioeconomic status, race, and school location. Even students with learning disabilities such as attention deficit disorder display improved behavior. Recess is especially important for children with ADHD because the physical activity which recess provides the ‘focus and clarity of mind’ that these students need.
4 Students feel safer and happier at schools that offer recess, too. According to a study from Stanford, this leads to less bullying, higher engagement, and more positive relationships with both other students and teachers. This can make a great difference especially for low-income students, whose attendance and achievement are affected positively by recess breaks. It’s so important for all students to have recess, especially those who are economically disadvantaged, that the right to play is a right recognized by the UN.
During recess, making friendships allow students to think positively of their school and reduces stress–which in turn reduces stress and facilitates learning. Combined with the cognitive and emotional intelligence that already comes from recess, this creates the perfect learning environment for a child, allowing them to think creatively and independently, and become confident enough to reach their fullest potential.
In conclusion, recess has a great many benefits, many of which help children develop cognitively, emotionally, behaviorally, and socially. And there are countless other reasons why recess is a great idea–such as physical fitness and the development of motor skills. There’s a reason why kids love it so much. Recess isn’t just a chance to have fun–it’s a time to grow, become more confident, and energize the mind for learning.
When your kids get a longer recess or break, what benefits do you see? Short-term, long-term? Share your stories here!