Can Recess Make Your Child Smarter?

Healthy Kids, Healthy Family

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) thinks recess will definitely help your child become a better learner. In a time where many schools have cut back on recess due to time constraints, safety concerns, and financial reasons, the AAP issued a new policy statement this spring advocating for recess to be included in every child’s day—even in high school.

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What are the benefits of recess?

  • Cognitive. Studies have shown that a break in the day helps children to focus better and improves their memory. It’s like a “brain break” when the child can recharge before learning something new.
  • Social. Playtime is a good time for children to learn to negotiate, take turns, and resolve conflicts.
  • Health. During recess, many children get good physical activity, and this exercise is needed for a variety of health reasons—the current obesity epidemic being one of them.

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What do we mean by “recess”?

The general recommendation from health experts is a break from classes that lasts for at least 15 to 20 minutes.

The AAP strongly recommends what is called unstructured play, which means activities that are unplanned and are not directed by adults. That is, the child gets to choose what to do. In fact, some children may choose not to do much of anything during this free time, and just talk with friends. But studies have demonstrated that children who are less physically active during recess, but who are still “taking a break” from thinking, reap the same benefits in better school performance as do the more energetic kids.

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Things to consider

  • The AAP discourages teachers from taking away recess as a punishment for bad behavior or incomplete homework. Particularly in the case of an especially active child, taking away the chance to run around and burn off some energy during the day is likely to be counterproductive for both student and teacher.
  • Some schools cite safety concerns as a reason for not having recess. Playgrounds do need to be assessed and maintained for optimal safety.
  • Recess is a time when behavior issues can frequently arise, as kids dispute whose turn it is or who was right. That, however, is real life. Adult supervision needs to be adequate—and interventions are sometimes necessary.

When the school year resumes, look at how your school handles recess and, if necessary, make suggestions for changes that can get the year started off in the right direction. After all, we’re just talking about 15 or 20 minutes here—and, yes, parents can have a big voice.

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