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.