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If you take away recess, don’t expect kids to behave at school

Physical activity isn’t just about maintaining a healthy body, it’s also about maintaining a healthy mind. Are young kids being expected to hold still and focus for way too long at school?

The lost art of recess

When you were a child, recess was the part of your school day that you looked forward to most. You were able to be free, to shout, to run around and to play. While you probably thought that it was just the ultimate “goof-off” time, recess actually benefits a child’s mental and physical health while at the same time improving academic outcomes. Why, then, are some school districts shrinking down recess opportunities in favor of sitting still and learning?

Dr. Chester Goad, former teacher, principal and U.S. congressional staffer, recognizes that a reduction in recess time is not beneficial for anyone, especially the child. He pegs modern teaching requirements as part of the cause. “Unfortunately, heavy emphasis in recent years on high stakes standardized testing has forced schools to limit free time, play time and social opportunities for students in order to cover the many standards and objectives required by new laws and policies.”

What are the benefits of recess?

Physical education classes afford children a chance to get moving, but as these activities are structured, and in that way restrictive, they don’t give a child free reign to develop crucial social skills and dynamic relationships with his peers.

“Recess gives a child a chance to blow off steam with freedom,” says Sue Acuña, coauthor of Middle School: The Inside Story: What Kids Tell Us, But Don’t Tell You. “Teachers have a saying,” she explains. “‘The brain can only absorb what the seat can endure.’ As the time of enforced sitting drags on, one’s thoughts focus only on how much longer, how to get comfortable or how to politely exit, rather than on what’s being said.”

Kids are much the same. Recess breaks up the learning into more manageable chunks, energizes the body as well as the mind and provides a much-needed change of scenery. The idea of reducing or even eliminating recess should not be considered, but if free time is cut, there are other ways to incorporate movement and stress relief, even within the confines of the classroom..

Dr. Goad stresses that teachers and administrators can and should find creative ways to work physical activity and relaxation into the school day, no matter if opportunities are plentiful or limited. “Teachers are experts at being able to do more with less,” he says.

More time devoted to letting children play freely should be a goal of school districts around the country — not less time. Experts agree that the benefits are there, and hopefully administrations will listen.

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