Included is a synthesis of two articles intended for those with a professional interest in student health and physical fitness
In schools that provide their students with designated recess time, it has often been considered an acceptable practice to treat this time to play as a luxury or privilege. Teachers reserved the right to keep students who misbehaved or otherwise failed to meet expectations in the classroom during recess. Evie Blad and the team of Marcus Conyers and Donna Wilson suggest that this punitive measure is a detrimental one that may hinder student learning and does not curtail the problems the teacher seeks to address. Combined, their works show that not only is recess beneficial for student physical health, it may also help students focus and learn better in the classroom.
A Win-Win Situation
Each article emphasizes that teachers and schools should not feel like recess is a time commitment with trade-offs. Instead, play time makes students better learners in the classroom and may be far more beneficial to boisterous or disruptive students than keeping them inside would be. Conyers and Wilson list a host of studies conducted on students from elementary school age all the way to the university level. All the listed research concluded that active students performed better academically than those who did not exercise (Conyers and Wilson, 2015). In one study, researchers found that “9- and 10-year-olds performed better on reading comprehension, spelling and math tests when they had 20 minutes of activity immediately before testing” while another recorded that “students were more focused on learning after breaks that involved physical activity” than they were after sedentary breaks (Conyers and Wilson, 2015, p. 39). These results support the decision of multiple U.S. states banning recess restrictions as a form of punishment. Blad (2015) quotes a 2012 position paper from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which stated that “safe and well-supervised recess offers cognitive, social, emotional, and physical benefits that may not be fully appreciated when a decision is made to diminish it.” Importantly, the paper also assets that “recess is unique from, and a complement to, physical education—not a substitute for it” (Blad, 2015).
Supporting Students Through Active Play
The information in these two articles ultimately suggests that the students that often do not have recess are likely the ones that might benefit from it most. Blad (2015) includes information from a Colorado study that suggests students who experience “unstructured play [show] more signs of strong executive functioning and decision-making skills.” Therefore, troublesome or high-energy students should not be penalized with forced time in the classroom, but should instead be allowed to play so that they might return feeling more attentive, alert, and respectful.
Recess may also serve as a resource for students in urban schools. According to the AAP, “children attending high-poverty and urban schools are less likely than their peers in middle- and upper-income schools to receive adequate playtime,” but the disadvantages these students already face in the classroom means they likely benefit the most from the educational bonuses designated playtime offers (Blad, 2015). ‘Sacrificing’ some time in the classroom with unstructured time to play and exercise may have once seemed detrimental to learning, but the research Blad provides corroborates the movement Conyers and Wilson are observing. Recess is not simply fun and games, but a legitimate tool to improve learning and development within the classroom.
Blad, E. (2015). Withholding Recess as Discipline in Decline. Education Week, 34(27), 1, 14. https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2015/04/15/withholding-recess-as-discipline-declining.html
Conyers, M and Wilson, D. (2015). Smart Moves: Powering up the Brain with Physical Activity. The Phi Delta Kappan, 96(8), 38-42.