How Powerful is Recess Throughout the School Day?

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Photo: TODAY

One Texas school is giving kindergarten and first grade students four recess breaks per day and it’s paying off.

“There was a part of me that was very nervous about it,” Donna McBride, a first-grade teacher at Eagle Mountain Elementary in Fort Worth, Texas, told TODAY Parents.

“I was trying to wrap my head around my class going outside four times a day and still being able to teach those children all the things they needed to learn.”

As it turns out, the practice is paying dividends. After five months, the students were less fidgety and more focused than they had been. Even parents are seeing good results.

“Amy Longspaugh noticed her 6-year-old daughter Maribel, who is in McBride’s class, has become more independent and writes with more detail and creativity,” reads the TODAY article. “Maribel has also made more friends as the kids mingle outside.”

A Culture of Work

Taking regular breaks benefits adults as well as students.

Focusing on work at the expense of everything else is a cultural issue in the United States, not just a school issue. Adults would also benefit from taking breaks throughout the day, increasing productivity.

“Unlike cellphones that run optimally until their batteries die, people ‘have to charge more frequently before we deplete all the way,’ Emily Hunter, associate professor of management at Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business explained to HealthDay reporter Karen Pallarito.

Hunter was part of a study was conducted to measure the effectiveness of short breaks during the workday.

The results?

Short breaks – especially when filled with something the person enjoys — resulted in “more energy, more motivation to return to work and were better able to concentrate.”

As counter-intuitive as it seems in the United States, mental and physical breaks throughout the day actually result in higher productivity. It’s something schools and workplaces can benefit from.

Thriving Imagination

Focus isn’t the only benefit of allowing students to engage in play throughout the school day.

“Imagination thrives when kids have the mental and physical space to engage in world building,” writes John Spencer, a design thinker and author.

Spencer doesn’t just emphasize play with younger students, but with older kids as well. In one article, he entertains the idea of providing recess to middle schoolers. He cites that preschool-aged students have the opportunity to do a number of things in recess:

  • Decide what they will do
  • Get a break from thinking about math and science
  • Get to improve coordination
  • Learn to negotiate, communication, and participate in sports
  • Use imagination

“I know my students are older and more developed,” Spencer reasons. “They’re supposed to be more responsible. However, it seems to me that as you get older you should also get more freedom — or at least keep some of the freedom that you already have.”

What is Your Personal Experience?

It is one thing to hear the facts about recess – it is another entirely to experience the benefits.

As a mother to three children: a five-year-old girl, four-year-old boy, and 17-month-old girl, I recognize firsthand the importance of physical activity, especially when it comes to my son.

He has the ability to sit down and focus on work, but he has to get energy out during the day or he will dissolve into a fit of silliness. With him heading into his final year of preschool, I worry that he will have a tough time once he moves into kindergarten and grade school.

What is your personal experience with recess, either as a parent or educator? Do schools in your area provide children with adequate time for physical activity and a mental break?

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