Major Education Issues: Do Kids Really Need Recess?

By Lisa Hayes and Linda Wacyk

The new federal No Child Left Behind Act demands a lot more from schools. They are expected to steadily improve learning for all students. Some schools have responded by cutting back on playtime so students can spend more time learning.

But is that a good idea? Does that cause more stress in children and teachers?

As the pressure mounts for schools to increase academic learning, recess is losing out. Many schools have chosen to do away with outdoor activity in favor of more time in the classroom.

Some teachers are pleased to have the extra time each day. They say there are fewer fights on the playground, and kids don't lose focus while learning. They also report fewer playground injuries, which makes many parents happy.

Parents Question Schools' Issues and Policy On Recess

But other parents are stewing about their young children being forced to learn for six hours without a break -- and child development experts agree.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children took a stand as early as 1997 on the value of school recess and outdoor play. They contend that school recess is often the only time during the work week that children are able to be carefree-a time when their bodies, voices and schedules are not under tight control.

Other experts point out that when kids miss out on physical activity and stress-relieving play, they get distracted from learning anyway. When they don't get a break, they lose focus and can't concentrate when it's time to hit the books.

Benefits of Playtime

Is playtime really worth it?

Experts say yes. Play is a form of learning that unites the mind, body and spirit. Until at least the age of 9, a child's learning occurs best when the whole self is involved. Children use all their senses at once, instead of just sight and sound, and interact with peers to develop social skills.

Plus, recess allows potentially hyperactive kids to blow off steam, and gives teachers a chance to watch kids interact with their peers.

All this child's play is serious business for the folks at The American Association for the Child's Right to Play (IPA/USA). They point out that recess fills a human need -- even for adults.

After all, judges call a recess when courtroom participants become tired or unfocused. Congressional sessions recess for similar reasons. And businesses of all sizes give their employees recess (but we call them breaks).

Even the U.S. Army acknowledges the need for a ten-minute break every hour during training sessions. They believe this "at rest" session improves results when training is extended over a period of time. The experts at IPA/USA ask: Shouldn't our children be treated with as much respect?

The IPA/USA Elementary Recess Handbook presents a strong case for school recess. Here are just a few of the ways they say recess fits the bill for elementary aged children.

Recess meets a child's social and emotional needs in these ways:

Recess promotes brain development and learning in these ways:

Recess meets the child's physical needs in these ways:

Promoting Recess

Despite all this evidence, 40 percent of U.S. schools do not provide children with recess.* What can you do to reverse this trend?

What should you ask when you visit the school?


* According to the The International Association for the Child's Right to Play.

Lisa Hayes is a journalist and contributing author from Petoskey, Michigan. Linda Wacyk is a former EduGuide editor.