School districts in Atlanta, New York, Chicago, New Jersey, and Connecticut are opting to eliminate recess, even to the point of building new schools in their districts without playgrounds. According to Benjamin O. Canada, the superintendent of Atlanta schools, "We are intent on improving academic performance and you don't do that by having kids hang on monkey bars" (Johnson, 1998, p. A1).
In contrast to these views, child development researchers cite many benefits of having a recess time during the school day. According to Dr. Tony Pellegrini, a professor of child development at the University of Georgia, "Every study shows that children are more attentive after recess" (Johnson, 1998, p. A16). Pellegrini adds that not having a recess during the school day is almost inhumane because children are being kept confined in their classrooms for hours each day. Prolonged periods of confinement in elementary classrooms have been found to lead to increased fidgeting, restlessness, and subsequent inability to concentrate (Pellegrini & Davis, 1993).
Recess has also been found to be important for aspects of children's development. According to Pellegrini and Glickman (1989), "recess is one of the few times during the day when children are free to exhibit a wide range of social competencies such as sharing, cooperation, negative and passive language in a context they see meaningful" (p. 24). These skills are then transferred to the classroom and beyond. For example, a common playground game, "chase," has been linked to academic success. According to Pellegrini and Glickman, "Children learn to cooperate to the extent that the play requires cooperation and they learn to solve problems in such forms of play. They realize that in order to sustain their chase play with peers, they must take turns being the chaser or the chased. If they refuse to change roles, the game ends. This reciprocating role is a powerful predictor of the ability to cooperate and view events from different perspectives" (p. 24).
Dr. Olga Jarrett, professor of child development at Georgia State University, wonders about the opportunity for such learning and for interacting with other children without recess. "Many children today go home after school and sit in front of the television rather than play outside" (Johnson, 1998, p. A16). According to the Children's Defense Fund (1998), nearly 5 million children are home alone after school. Jarrett points out that "when children are used to playing together, they figure out a way to handle differences. But, these days, children are increasingly looking for an adult to settle disputes. Their sense of independence is being lost in the heavily structured world of childhood" (Johnson, 1998, p. A16).
Finally, the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) released its physical activity guidelines for pre-adolescent children in May 1998. According to the NASPE guidelines:
* Children need at least 60 minutes of developmentally appropriate physical activity.
* Children should experience a variety of activities of various levels of intensity. These activities should be intermittent, alternating moderate to vigorous activity with brief periods of rest and recovery.
* Extended periods of inactivity are not developmentally appropriate for children.
These guidelines are based on the concept that children have unique characteristics which differ from adults, including shorter attention spans and a need for a wide variety of experiences for learning ("NASPE releases," 1998). As a society who is concerned about the health risks of obesity, it is also important to note that children will likely learn to be inactive as adults if they are not provided with opportunities to be active when they are young. The "no recess" policies being implemented in various parts of the country seem to be contrary to the physical and learning need of elementary school children.
It may be helpful for adults to step back and reflect on the break periods which are an important part of our day. Just as judges and lawyers take a recess during court sessions and office workers take breaks during the day to relax and recharge, children also need a time for recess. This may mean that educators and parents will need to reexamine the valuable experiences that take place outside of the classroom and compromise between what is developmentally and academically important for children.
For more information:
Appropriate Physical Activity for Elementary School Children: Executive Summary from the National Association for Sport and Physical Education
Developmentally Appropriate Programming For School-Age Children from the National Network for Child Care
School Recess and Playground Behavior: Educational and Developmental Roles by Anthony D. Pellegrini
Recess and Social Development by Dr. Tom Jambor
Johnson, Dirk. (1998, April 7). Many schools putting an end to child's play. New York Times, p. A1, A16.
NASPE releases first ever physical activity guidelines for pre-adolescent children. http://www.aahperd.org/naspe/
Pellegrini, Anthony, & Davis, P. (1993). Relations between children's playground and classroom behavior. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 63, 88-95.
Pellegrini, Anthony, & Glickman, Carl. (1989). The educational role of recess. Principal, 68(5), 23-24.