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Jan 07 2013

The importance of school recess

When I attended a K-12 school in Sri Lanka, we had eight class periods that started at 8:30 am and ended at 3:05 pm. Within the day, there was a 15-minute recess from 10:30-10:45am and one hour for lunch from 12:05-1:05pm. When he were in middle school grades and below, during the recess period we would dash out to play pick-up games of cricket or soccer or whatever, and during the one-hour lunch break we would quickly wolf down our food in order to continue the games we had started earlier in the day. These were wonderful breaks in the days. As we entered the higher grades, we did not use that time for play but instead spent it hanging out and chatting with our friends.

Apart from just being fun, these games and social interactions tended to create social networks and build social skills since one had to always negotiate things during play and there were no adults to arbitrate. I found it disturbing that in the US my children did not seem to have as many opportunities to play during the school day. Hence I was encouraged to read recently that there is increasing awareness of the benefits of recess

That’s because unstructured play is so important to a child’s development, said the policy’s authors. Murray said when he and Ramstetter first started the study, they thought structured recess was more ideal because it provided an organized way to boost physical activity.

However, their research found evidence that unstructured recess provides psychosocial benefits where kids get to be creative and explore different things, which for some kids can also include physical activity. But even young girls chatting and braiding their hair can provide that necessary type of decompression children need to gain benefits, even without the presence of physical activity, said Murray.

“With kids so highly structured today, they don’t have many opportunities to explore creative play,” he said.

As a child growing up in Sri Lanka we spent a huge amount of time in unstructured activities, both in school and outside school. I hear that even there school days there are now shorter, with the long lunch period either shortened or even eliminated as some schools shift to single sessions. This is unfortunate.

I don’t see any reason why recesses should not be a part of the regular school days, other than the fact that we seem to be increasingly nervous about leaving children to their own devices.

7 comments

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  1. 1
    olivercrangle

    I think you and I are roughly the same age. And when I was growing up in California, elementary and Jr. High was exactly has you describe. And now, my kids don’t have recess, and they’ve even eliminated almost any PE requirement.

    If you want your kids to play, go pay for them to take gym, karate, dance, etc. outside of school hours. (Likewise, drive them everywhere, don’t let them ride a bike except around the immediate neighborhood.)

    At the same time, jeez, lots of kids seem very fidgety behind their desks all day long. A shame the boys can’t be as peaceful and quiet and interested as the girls.

  2. 2
    abbeycadabra

    Must be a new-ish phenomenon. My elementary school schedule (80s) and my little sister’s (late 80s, early 90s) were the same as yours, Mano.

  3. 3
    abbeycadabra

    Oh, FYI: in Eastern Canada.

  4. 4
    left0ver1under

    It’s nice to know other people in other countries had the same opportunities in childhood I had. Recess was too short for going outside or to the gym (especially in -20C winters) but pickup games at lunch and after school were common where I lived.

    Where I live now (Taiwan), however, such breaks don’t seem to exist. Kids often end up doing their mountains of homework during their lunch times. All work and no play etc. It makes me sad to see them so frustrated. The educational and reinforcement games we play in class are sometimes the only fun the kids get all day.

  5. 5
    Crudely Wrott

    I learned a lot of important and useful things during class time. Equally, I learned a lot of important and useful life skills on the playground.

    In fact, when I cast my mind back to those days, the most valuable lessons, the ones I keep on using on a near daily basis, are the ones that I learned during morning recess and lunch hour.

    Among the most important were lessons on how to deal with bullies, get the better of the “big” kids and how to talk to girls. All that stuff in the classrooms? Gravy.

  6. 6
    Crudely Wrott

    addendum: Gravy except for all of my english classes, Mr. Guptill’s history class and Mrs. Milliken’s science class. I still remember most of that and it is foundational to what I’ve learned since. To all my teachers, I salute you. To the playground monitors (who were mostly invisible), thanks for leaving us mostly to our own devices.

  7. 7
    Lassi Hippeläinen

    The usual schedule here is Finland is 45 minute classes with 10 minute recesses. During the breaks both the kids and the classroom get ventilated. And the kids go out even at -20C. The extra five minutes per hour are combined to a longer lunch break at 11.

    So the secret why Finland climbs so high in PISA ratings is the number of breaks in a school day?

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