Your Education: What Happened to Recess?

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By: Annie Osteen

School has started and each summer I always say that what little break the students and teachers have to enjoy, goes by faster and faster.

The summers are inevitably the time to relax and recharge for the children AND their parents. Then the fall season kicks off a new school year which brings back early mornings and sometimes late nights, along with full calendars. It’s the time to bid farewell to the brief resuscitation that we receive after nine long months of academic and scheduling overload. However, do the children returning to school, particularly in elementary and middle schools, still have what they need to recharge throughout their day like they did in the summer?

These days most public and private schools begin their day anywhere from 7am to 8:30am, ending seven to eight hours later. With each passing year, the academic standards which need to be met by state and federal guidelines, seem to get more stringent and with less opportunity for free time, whether that’s during the lunch hour or during recess.

Our children spend a third of their day, five days a week, under the florescent lights in the classroom. They are tested, studied and monitored – and without the breaks that most lab rats are allowed. Realizing that the educators in our country are subjected to the same thing, they are certainly not to blame and unfortunately they are the ones to reap the consequences of what can happen when a child sits for too long or is asked to remain as quiet as needed to ensure a “standard” is met.

Where did recess go? I personally remember it being a very welcomed break during the long day and at one time, recess was a commonality amongst all schools in this country. It was a time for students to run off the energy accumulated in a classroom, a chance for natural sunlight to soak in and an opportunity for social development with peers.

Research dating back to the late 1800s indicates that people, including children, learn better when their efforts are distributed rather than concentrated. This means we all need breaks throughout the day. Without them, our minds slow down and we lose focus on what needs to get done.

Some will argue physical education classes can be used as the outlet for children to get their physical activity. While this is in part true, PE classes are more structured and are controlled environments. Especially in urban areas, recess may be the only opportunity that a child has to develop social skills with children his or her own age. But for all children, recess is another chance to be active and release the academic pressures that are now beginning in kindergarten.

It goes without saying that recess also creates a positive crusade against the “our children are becoming unhealthy and obese,” era that this country seems to be moving towards. Research from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that fewer than half of children ages six through eleven met the minimum recommendation of sixty minutes of moderate exercise per day. The study also found that children can accumulate up to forty percent of that exercise during recess.

Some of our fondest memories were made on the playground growing up. Whether it was because you met a new lifelong friend or giggle upon recalling times of when the girls used to chase the boys, recess was a vital part of how we eventually learned lessons the classroom couldn’t bring about. The benefits to extending the amount of time that classes spend outside during recess far surpasses any negative aspects. With the improved focus it brings to children while in the classroom, along with the physical and social development that they all need while learning, recess can be just as educative as learning a lesson while seated at their desks.

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