The importance of recess

Did you ever sat on the bench in elementary school? I did ONCE, in second grade, for screaming in the bathroom. Mortified and bored out of my mind as I watched my friends play, it never happened again.
recess benefits
As academic pressures and safety concerns continue to rise, school administrators have considered restricting recess breaks for increased instruction time or as punishment for bad behavior. However, recess is a crucial part of a child’s development and should not be restricted. Last month the American Academy of Pediatrics released a policy statement to endorse unstructured physical activity and play breaks within the elementary school day, a.k.a. “recess.” According to the report, “Recess is a necessary break in the day for optimizing a child’s social, emotional, physical, and cognitive development. In essence, recess should be considered a child’s personal time, and it should not be withheld for academic or punitive reasons.”

To gain an insider’s perspective, I interviewed Christina Bingham, a current kindergarten teacher for the San Jose Unified School District. Here’s what she had to say about recess:

Q1: Do you think recess is important? Why or why not?
A1: Recess is very important. Everybody, adults and children, need mental and physical breaks throughout the day. We are simply more productive when we have time to unwind. Children also need a time that is unstructured for them to use their imaginations, problem solve and learn social queues from each other. Also, children need to run around to get the blood flowing and to get fresh air.

Q2: Have you ever taken away recess as punishment?
A2: Most teachers don’t like to take recess away as punishment. Usually the kids who have to sit out at recess are the kids who need recess the most, and it is actually more work for the teacher. If I keep a child in at lunch recess, for example, I am also giving up my only break as well. Most times this only happens when the child’s behavior is a danger to the other children. I have used taking away recess as a consequence, but usually it is only for a short time. Most of the time this is a result of the child not following the rules on the playground, which again is dangerous. I will have the child “sit out” for a few minutes. I always make sure the child understands the behavior that needs to be corrected and how they are going to correct the behavior. Sometimes the child may need a few minutes to calm down, especially if there has been an altercation. In order to stop a negative behavior, the consequence should be meaningful to the child. Also, there must be positive incentives to help motivate the child to improve behavior. Taking away recess is not the only way to achieve this, but sometimes it’s an appropriate one.

Q3: What do you do when recess is cancelled due to bad weather outside?
A3: Rainy days are every teacher’s nightmare! Thirty kids stuck in a stuffy room all day is less than ideal. It’s hard for kids to stay inside that long—they need fresh air and an opportunity to run around. Most teachers, myself included, will give the kids “free choice” or activity time in the classroom, play a movie, board games or computers. The children still need to have “free” time. Usually on rainy days, I will stay with my students during their lunch and recess times.


Photo by: Kevin Collins —

Q4: Do teachers get pressure from school administration or parents to restrict classroom breaks?
A4: I have heard and read articles where that is the case, but I personally have not felt any pressure to restrict classroom breaks. My school supports recess and values the benefits that recess has in a child’s ability to focus in the classroom. Studies show that recess is actually very important. I think the idea of schools taking away recess is terrible. I want my students to be mentally and physically healthy. I do not want my students to burn out by the third grade. Teaching should be developmental, and developmentally children need recess.

Q5: Are you required to staff recess? What safety concerns do you have?
A5: Yes, I staff two recesses per day out of the three that we have. I have to say, that after two plus hours in the classroom I am happy to go outside and get fresh air too! I don’t really have any safety concerns. I work a lot with my students about appropriate behavior on the playground. Because I teach small children, I spend a lot of time teaching and modeling appropriate social skills as well. Children, when given the correct training, can follow rules and are great problem solvers.

Q6: Is recess as important to teachers as it is for students?
A6: Definitely! Everybody needs breaks! Our brains need time to process new information. Recess plays an integral part in a child’s and teacher’s day. We all need that time to regroup before moving on to another task. A lot of teachers work through their lunches to prepare for when the kids come back since there is not a lot of down time during the school day. Many times I need to remind myself to take a minute to slow down and actually eat lunch. When I don’t take the time to take care of myself during the day, I pay for it later. I need to keep myself healthy so I can do my best teaching!

As Christina mentions above, even adults need recess. This is something I’m working on personally myself, as evidenced by the launch of this blog. Read why taking a real lunch break is good for your health from here.

Bottom Line: Taking a break is important for everyone. It refreshes the mind, improves mood and increases productivity for the rest of the day.

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