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The Importance of Recess in Schools

The Importance of Recess in Schools

Taking away recess has been a traditional punishment in schools for decades. Various states and lawmakers are trying to change this because, in truth, recess does matter. Giving students ample recess time can help improve academic performance and the development of various critical skills. 

Whether you want to know about the importance of recess in middle schools, elementary schools or high schools, the benefits are all the same. This comprehensive guide explores the various reasons why kids need recess, the importance of physical activity during recess and 10 ways you can maximize the effects of recess. 

Why Kids Need Recess

Recess can positively impact children's well-being in various ways. While recess influences physical activity, active movement also allows the brain to exercise its creative and analytic sides, ultimately helping kids develop emotionally and cognitively. Let's explore three critical reasons why recess is important for student development:

1. Physical Benefits 

According to a study, childhood obesity has more than tripled since the 1970s. Because students mostly sit during classes and often eat high-calorie foods, they need recess to be active for at least a few minutes each day. The National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) recommends implementing at least 20 minutes of daily recess because it may improve children's overall weight. 

Playgrounds with space and equipment for running, climbing, swinging and sliding can greatly influence physical benefits since they work different muscle groups. The physical benefits of recess are especially important today due to our increasingly digital world. Many children feel more engaged with sedentary activities like watching TV, playing video games or watching videos on phones or tablets. 

2. Cognitive Benefits 

One unique benefit of recess is that it helps young minds develop into their full potential. When children engage in active play, they stimulate blood circulation and deliver glucose and oxygen to the brain. This helps enhance attention, concentration and memory. Physical activity can optimize brain performance, increasing the chance of improved academic performance. 

This is the same as helping manage their energy levels. After a long period of learning new concepts and sitting still, children may need to reenergize or let out their pent-up energy. After coming back from their breaks, they can focus on the lesson at hand and take in new information more effectively.

A group of young children play outside, letting out their pent-up energy.

3. Social and Emotional Benefits 

Recess offers students time to rest, play, socialize, move, think and use their imaginations. These activities allow children to adapt to complex school environments, encouraging them to find different stress management techniques using problem-solving and creativity.

During recess, children learn critical communication skills like cooperation, negotiation, sharing and problem-solving. They also learn coping skills by regularly practicing self-control and perseverance. 

When children play, they often do so together and let their imaginations take over to create immersive experiences. This helps them enjoy their time outside of class to the fullest and improves their emotional stability. When the time comes for them to work with others in class, they'll already have experience in cooperation and working together to resolve issues. 

The Importance of Physical Activity 

Physical activity during recess promotes an array of benefits, as movement improves blood flow and brain activity. Here are the main reasons why physical activity itself is essential during recess:

1. Enhances Memory and Concentration 

As we've discovered, physical activity enhances brain performance by delivering oxygen to the brain. This has been proven to increase memory and concentration, thus improving academics.

In certain parts of America, schools increased recess time for students. As a result, students seemed to excel in their academic performance as opposed to those in schools with less recess time.

How does recess help students focus? Exercise releases chemicals called endorphins. These feel-good chemicals act as natural tranquilizers for the brain. Body movement helps improve students' alertness, mental focus and cognitive skills when learning in class. 

Three smiling children go down a slide together.

2. Gives Students a Break From Academic Challenges

School and classes are typically structured and planned out. Teachers usually plan exactly what children will do from the start to the end of the day. This creates little opportunity for spontaneity and creativity. Still, children need time to expend their energy in a healthy manner.

“Unstructured recess” is a phrase for student-initiated play without formal guidelines or rules. It gives children the opportunity to engage in various behaviors — such as raising their voices and interacting with others — that they normally couldn't do in classroom environments. This offers an appropriate way to reduce stress that can negatively impact mental health and learning abilities. 

3. Improves Student Behavior 

With regular recess in schools, children can learn to manage their energy more effectively. As such, they may be more well-behaved indoors and less likely to socialize with friends in class since they already did so in recess.

They'll also understand that while they should be quiet indoors, they can be louder during recess. This reduces the chance of students acting up in class. Schools may also experience fewer disciplinary issues with these behavioral improvements.

The Benefits of Recess 

Recess helps children develop various skills that teachers may find challenging to convey in structured learning environments. These skills are critical to the way students approach everyday life experiences and learning in general. Here are eight benefits of recess for parents, teachers and students:

1. Positive Attitude Toward School 

A young boy and girl play a board game in a classroom.

More recess time helps children feel more excited about going to school, as they get to spend time with friends and socialize. Recess can also motivate children to finish their work on time and do well so they can enjoy their break to the fullest. 

A good class time-to-recess ratio helps reduce the stress students might feel and makes the workload more manageable. This allows children to see school as a positive environment they enjoy being in. When they are willing, refreshed and mentally prepared to learn, they are more likely to flourish academically. 

2. Independent Learning 

Recess provides opportunities for students to learn independence. For instance, they might weigh the pros and cons of playing with particular kids and what those situations could lead to. They might consider different games and activities to do during recess.

This constant decision-making can promote problem-solving and leadership skills. It also helps students find creative ways to play and make decisions. 

3. Increased Confidence 

When children thrive academically and socially, they start to feel more confident. This encourages them to take risks and try new things more regularly.

During recess, their self-confidence drives them to use their imaginations and experiment with various skills. It lets them adapt to different environments faster and approach new learning topics in class with more confidence and determination. 

4. Better Engagement 

Recess gives children a much-needed break from the structured learning environment. Recess periods act as brain breaks for students to rest their minds and regain their energy.

More oxygen goes to the brain during physical activity, helping students feel refreshed. When they return from recess, they can better focus during class lessons and engage with teachers and other students about their thoughts on the lesson. 

5. Exposure to Sunlight 

A group of children play the game London Bridges outside during recess.

Children need sunlight because it helps them maintain healthy vitamin D levels. Studies show that vitamin D is good for brain development while children are growing. Playgrounds and outdoor areas offer exposure to natural light that can improve students' moods and overall health.

Sunlight exposure can also increase the brain's release of serotonin. This hormone helps students feel more focused and calm, which may improve their attention during class hours.

6. Better at Following Directions 

Staying in class for most of the day may cause pent-up energy in children. You may notice them struggling to pay attention and follow directions in class. After ample recess time, students will generally be more attentive and better handle cognitive tasks like concentration and memory. These skills are essential for keeping students productive throughout class time. 

7. Improved Conflict Resolution 

During recess, there will be times when students disagree on which game to play, how someone plays or other matters. Conflict can sometimes be positive, as it creates an opportunity for students to develop conflict resolution skills.

If your school's staff typically supervises students during recess, they may need to tread carefully when intervening in disputes. That way, students can find new and healthy ways to resolve issues independently. 

8. Bonding With Teachers and Friends 

There is little time for students to interact with teachers and peers between lessons. Recess gives students the opportunity to get to know teachers on a more personal and fun level. This is especially important when you consider that students need to trust teachers before they can go to them for help. Whether it is an issue with another student or an academic concern, students will feel more comfortable going to adults for help when they have built meaningful relationships with them.

A teacher greets two young students with a smile and open arms.

Relationship building with classmates also teaches children the importance of building trust, caring for others and learning other skills needed to communicate and connect with people in the real world. 

11 Ways to Maximize the Effects of Recess 

We now know that recess is good for students and various factors make it a necessity in schools. Of course, this is only true if you implement it correctly. For example, unstructured recess is good for students, but it should still be supervised to ensure children's safety. Here are 11 tips you can use to maximize the effects of recess:

1. Review Current Recess Policies and Practices 

Before you implement new practices and rules, review the current recess policies with the school administration and identify any flaws. Are students getting the recommended number of recess minutes each day? Are they active during these breaks? Which areas of the existing policy need improvement? Which practices should you keep because they work well? 

Develop more effective rules based on your findings during this meeting. Your new policies should contribute to students' physical and mental well-being, safety, security and learning experience. 

2. Assign Adults to Recess Duty 

Any constructive recess time needs adequate supervision to ensure students' safety. For example, children might experience bullying and sustain injuries more often without adult supervision. You can enlist fellow staff members, parents or community members to supervise children during recess.

Provide ongoing training for these individuals so they properly interact with students and set a good example for them. These supervisors should display positive behaviors and make students feel safe. During recess, these figures should circulate the playground or school grounds, regularly facilitating play and mediating conflicts. They can also promote safety by reiterating behaviors and types of play children can engage in during recess. 

3. Create Recess Zones 

Designate areas as recess spaces for particular activities. For example, you might have one playground area for slides, swings and climbing, a field game area for ball-based sports games and a separate jump rope area. 

Most importantly, ensure these areas meet safety standards to reduce the chance of injuries. You can do so by ordering playground equipment from reputable manufacturers and suppliers.

Repair equipment as soon as someone reports damaged or broken parts. To reduce the spread of illnesses and promote cleanliness, regularly clean and sanitize the different recess areas, especially the most traffic-heavy zones.

4. Give Students Their Full Recess Time

While some believe taking away recess is an effective form of punishment, it may be doing more harm than good for both the teacher and the student. Without a way for children to release their pent-up energy or regain their energy, they may experience negative mental health impacts. Additionally, teachers may find it challenging to keep students focused and engaged. 

Encourage teachers to replace this punishment with a reasonable alternative. You should also ensure all students receive at least 20 minutes of unstructured free time. When the weather is a bit extreme, allow students to spend their recess indoors to ensure they rest their minds.

5. Spruce up the Playground Area 

An outdoor playground with a colorful sunshine mural painted on the ground.

If you're starting from scratch and have the funds, install playground equipment to encourage play and physical activity. You can also paint playground surfaces with lines for games like hopscotch, four square, kickball and soccer. Complement these play areas with smaller playground equipment like hula hoops, jump ropes and bean bags. 

Involve parents, guardians and students by distributing surveys to find out what playground equipment children might enjoy most. If you lack the funding, you could apply for a government grant to support your project or encourage parents and the community to donate money or playground equipment. 

6. Host a Recess Week 

If your goal is to engage students in physical activities during recess, try hosting an annual Recess Week to promote fun new games or old ones they may have forgotten about. You can also use this opportunity to remind students of best practices during recess, such as safety, cleanliness and kindness.

Recess Week offers a great way to build children's excitement for active recess. Rather than simply hosting assemblies to speak to students about it, have each class dedicate a session to this topic. Students can communicate with teachers and each other about recess activities they enjoy most or want to try. 

At the end of the week, have the whole school gather — or certain fractions of the school at different times — and let them put these activities into action. Supervisors can even join in on the fun while reminding students of acceptable behaviors during play. 

7. Encourage Older Students to Be Role Models 

When supervisors are away, who ensures children adhere to the rules? Older students can be excellent role models to younger children. Kids often look up to their older peers and even try to mimic them.

Try to encourage older students to lead by example during recess. They can show younger students how to engage in different activities, such as jump roping and hopscotch. They can promote student involvement, display positive behaviors — such as teamwork, conflict resolution, kindness and respect — and help kids sharpen their skills in these areas.

You can encourage older students informally. Better yet, you can create a school club for students who wish to lead where supervisors can train them.

8. Track Progress for Improvement 

Once you begin implementing new recess policies and practices, monitor the progress to ensure they are making a difference. After a few months, sit down with the supervisors and other relevant staff and discuss these new policies.

Are your current strategies positively impacting students? Are children more attentive in class after recess? Do the new activities contribute to the amount of daily physical activity they need? Are the kids using the equipment and activities you provided? Evaluate all these areas. Determine which implementations work well and which need adjustments. 

9. Encourage Various Ways to Enjoy Downtime 

Remember that while physical activity is good for children's well-being, some children may have other interests that help them reenergize for their next class. For example, some may enjoy socializing, some prefer spending time in the quiet and others enjoy physical activity, whether it's with others or alone. 

Accommodate these different behaviors so all students feel understood and cared for. You can do so by providing students with a quiet space for reading or listening to music. You can also provide a few board games, stress balls or fidget toys for students to engage with indoors. 

A collection of classroom games and toys for students to enjoy inside.

10. Have One-On-One Sessions 

There may be times when children engage in discouraged behavior during recess or have negative experiences with other students. Take this opportunity to implement one-on-one sessions. Supervisors and children can use this time to speak openly about the situation, helping supervisors understand the source of certain behaviors and creating better solutions based on unique situations. 

The best way for an adult to do this is by calmly and quietly listening to the student talk about their experience. They should then let the child know that they accept their feelings. They can proceed to explain to the student why the behavior is generally not acceptable and what they should do instead the next time something similar occurs. 

11. Encourage Students to Track Their Active Times 

Since each student is different, allow them to set their own physical activity goals and encourage them to stick to them. You can do so by providing every student with a personal purpose planner for physical activity.

These planners help students track their active times throughout the day. Encourage them to share their progress with their teachers weekly or monthly. You can also give them rewards or prizes for reaching their goals, such as snacks, toys, homework passes, keychains or school supplies.

Use Student Planners From Success by Design to Encourage Recess 

Three children sit at a table and write in their school planners.

The facts about recess make it clear that this activity can improve students' lives in various ways. Teaching can become easier for educators and your school's reputation may improve with students' higher academic performance. 

If you're ready to implement the best practices for unstructured recess, we recommend providing your students with daily planners to get started. At Success by Design, we offer a large selection of student planners to enhance the learning experience. Whether for learning or recess activities, planners teach children essential organization and planning skills that prepare them for adulthood. 

We welcome you to browse our selection of purpose planners today or contact our friendly team to help you find a suitable planner for your students.

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  • SBD, Inc.