The Case for Recess

Imagine going to work for seven or eight hours straight without taking a single coffee break. Never spending a few moments chatting with your coworkers around the water cooler. Never getting up from your desk to stretch your legs or walk around the office for a few minutes.

The idea is almost unfathomable to most adults, even those who claim they love to work. Why, then, are so many schools across the country slashing recess and physical education classes?

Less Recess, More Reading?

Standardized tests have been making media headlines in recent years. Since the passing of The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, educators and administrators have been faced with increasing accountability. As pressure continually mounts to meet testing goals and academic standards like the Common Core, some schools (and in some cases, entire school districts) are reducing or completely eliminating recess to spend more time on academic instruction.

The elimination of art and music classes is regularly in the news, but many adults don't realize that recess and P.E. are receiving the same treatment. One study found that 44 percent of schools have cut back on physical education classes and recess to focus on language arts and math.

Physical Activity Essential for Child Development

Children love to play and experts have long realized the benefits of playtime. In addition to the simple fact that kids should be able to have fun with their peers during the school day, research has found that breaks and downtime are a fundamental aspect of child development. In short, recess allows children to develop their physical and social abilities while practicing their coping skills and problem solving.

Playtime is also crucial to overall health and well-being. A 2013 report released by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies found that less than half of American youth met the Department of Health and Human Services' Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! Initiative calls for healthy eating and physical activity, yet school lunches are often comprised of high-calorie, processed foods and schools aren't giving kids regular breaks or gym classes.

The growing popularity of video games and computer games has children spending more time sitting indoors than playing outside, but physical activity is critical to kids' cognitive development and academic success. Behavioral issues in the classroom are more common when children aren't able to release excess energy by running around and having fun.

Lack of Recess Harming Kids with ADD

It seems that the number of children with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is on the rise, and scientific research can back up the theory. A study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry revealed that 2 million more American children were diagnosed with ADHD in 2011-2012 than in 2002-2003.

ADD and ADHD are medical conditions that affect how well someone can sit still, focus, and pay attention to what is happening. For children with ADD and ADHD, the seemingly simple act of sitting in the classroom and paying attention to the teacher can be difficult. A recess period, whether it is held outdoors or indoors, offers playtime and a chance to release that excess energy. Being active generally helps kids stay calm and quiet once it's time to sit in the classroom again.

A Weighty Issue

Attention issues are not the only health problems affected by a lack of recess. The Nemours Foundation reports that one in three American kids is now considered obese. Healthy eating habits are undeniably critical for maintaining a healthy weight in children as well as adults. Even though the First Lady's Let's Move! campaign, mentioned earlier in this article, is intended to help combat the rising epidemic of childhood obesity, most states have no requirements regarding recess, nor do they follow recommended guidelines for P.E. or gym classes.

Breaks are Just as Important for Kids

Smartphones and tablets that keep us "connected" at all hours of the day mean today's working adults are busier than ever. Periodic breaks can literally feel like a lifesaver during a demanding day spent sitting at a computer screen and participating in conference calls.

During school, kids work just as hard as grown-ups do. They sit at desks for hours. They, too, need a break.

Recess provides a much-needed opportunity. Its health benefits, especially among kids with attention disorders or weight problems, are obvious. School administrators should strongly consider (or reconsider) the importance of daily recess for all American schoolchildren. The improvements in both behavior and grades may actually reflect the change sought by eliminating recess or P.E. in the first place.