The Case of the Vanishing Recess
Why do schools cut recess? Is it some diabolical plot to end fun and joy, to force kids everywhere to toil away in dark, cold school buildings all day? When my parents (and generally anyone over forty) think of recess they think of the recess they knew.
Forty five minutes of fun and joy in which to eat lunch, and run around in the sun. Over the years recess has grown shorter and shorter until now, when kids are lucky to get fifteen minutes or less of recess time, or even fifteen minutes as their only break in the whole day. The main culprit is a bill passed in 2000 called No Child Left Behind; it called for more testing to make sure that every child was receiving fair and equal education. On the surface it looked like a great idea, who wouldn’t want kids to be smarter? But there were many bad repercussions, such as much shorter recess to make room for longer classes. With more stress put on testing (No Child Left Behind introduced most standardized testing, like the MCAS) many schools cut recess down a few minutes, or cut it out of the schedule altogether to have a little more time for math and English. However, what the government didn’t know is that actually they were making the situation worse.
Debates have raged on for decades about recess. Some say that kids don’t need it and that it is a useless period. Others say that it helps kid’s concentration in school, and kids can get some exercise. Recently, multiple studies have shown that kids do really need recess, or a similarly unstructured long break. Without a break, kids grow bored very quickly during long classes, and become unfocused. To get some other opinions other than those of child psychologists, and teachers, I asked a few of my classmates.
The majority had the same answer, “Yes I do think that kids need recess because it helps them concentrate and they get less bored with schoolwork.” Another response was, “Yes, because kids need exercise and they need breaks from school work.” Most teachers believe the same thing, some having seen the results of no recess right before their eyes. For example: a Massachusetts school wanted to see if recess really did affect kid’s work habits and concentration. The ten kids used in the study had their recess time cut down to fifteen minutes a day, and breaks shortened to five minutes.
With less recess and break, the children had more trouble concentrating on the longer classes, and grew bored faster. When they took a test at the end of three weeks, their scores dropped by an average of eight points each. This was not a reflection of the teachers, or the school; the teachers hadn’t changed their teaching style or curriculum, and there were no new teachers. There were no changes to the school either. No, what caused this was the cut in breaks. To see if this was the problem the administration restored recess to the full forty minutes, and the students took the test again after a week.
Their scores improved by an average of nine points. This example is proof of why kids need recess. It improves concentration among other things, and it has a beneficial effect on test scores and grades. Teachers and child psychologists also believe that a unstructured break period of medium to long length (25-45 minutes) is beneficial and even necessary to a young child’s development. Child psychologist Amy Roberts in an interview with Education.com said, “I believe that recess is a very important time in a young child’s life, during which they develop many important motor, social, and problem solving skills. With a shorter recess or none at all, children lose an important time to develop many important skills.” With many schools giving homework at a much younger age than they used to (another unforeseen effect of the No Child Left Behind Bill), and more students participating in extracurricular activities, most students don’t have another chance to practice these important skills. Over time it has been proven that kids need recess more than most people think, and that it is a very important, even crucial time to build social, and problem solving skills, and to get some exercise. Hopefully, schools will realize what an important period recess really is and take the correct course of action by extending recess.
Remember, kids with recess are happy healthy kids.