A Playground of Life Lessons

Where were most of your memories made in elementary school? Ask almost anyone, and their answer will be, “On the playground during recess!” Unfortunately, the youth of today may not have the opportunity to make those memories. As a result of the No Child Left Behind Act, more than forty percent of schools have reduced recess time, while seven percent have completely eliminated it from the school day (Pappas, 2011). With physical education only being offered to elementary students once a week, typically for forty minutes or less, recess is more important now than ever before. The absence of recess in schools will result in a long-term negative impact on these children’s health, learning, and social development.

Recess could possibly be the only opportunity throughout the day for some children to engage in social interactions with their peers. There are many children who have no siblings, or who may live in rural areas that aren’t conducive to gathering with friends after school. The free time that is given during recess allows for the development of social skills that will be beneficial for a lifetime, such as, making choices, developing rules for play, team building, and conflict resolution. These are basic social fundamentals that can’t necessarily be taught in a structured classroom setting, but are imperative in everyday life.

Not only is recess crucial for developing social skills, but many lifelong friendships are built while swinging on the play set, or waiting in line for the monkey bars. Being able to nourish those friendships and spend time together gives kids something to look forward to during the school day. It’s a little incentive to get them through when classroom activities become boring and monotonous.

Recess is also one of few opportunities for adults and teachers to observe how children behave socially with one another during free play. This can
help to determine any tendencies to fight or bully, identify children who possess leadership abilities, or pinpoint any other strengths or weaknesses that can and should be nurtured. In a typical classroom setting, children don’t have the ability to showcase talents that aren’t academic.

With childhood obesity on the rise, recess is detrimental to the health of children. Inactivity is associated with childhood obesity tripling since around 1970, along with an increase in other health issues, like elevated blood pressure and high cholesterol (Jarrett, 2002). When children aren’t given the opportunity to be active during the school day, they don’t tend to go home and make up for the exercise that was missed. Research revealed that children were actually less active when they got home from school on the days when they had no recess or physical education classes during the school day (Dale, Corbin, Dale, 2000). Even though not all children participate in physical activity during recess, they won’t even have the opportunity if it’s not offered. Today’s youth is already choosing television and video games over playing outside, so why should we support a sedentary lifestyle by eliminating recess from schools? Physical activity is also imperative for good mental health. Maintaining physical fitness has shown to increase self-esteem in children, and adults (AHA, 2012). In school aged children, it is especially important to reduce anxiety by burning off excess energy that is built up while sitting in class. The best way for them to do that is by having recess! New experimental research done by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine has also shown that children who are offered recess during the day have less behavioral issues in class. Teachers in a particular school district were asked to rate their students’ behavior, and those students who were given at least a 15 minute recess throughout the day scored higher than those who weren’t (Parker-Pope, 2009).

Obviously, recess offers a break from the sedentary routine of the day. The cognitive benefits of that break are astounding! For adults and children alike, breaks are deemed necessary for satisfaction and alertness. Research has also shown that breaks during learning result in a better quality of retention and recall due to the presentation of material being spaced
instead of all at once. This research is conducive to what is already known about brain functioning: “that the brain needs downtime to recycle chemicals crucial for long-term memory formation, and that attention involves 90-to110-minute cyclical patterns throughout the day” (Jarrett, 2002). Other theories state that there is a positive correlation between unstructured interaction with peers, and higher results on intelligence tests (Jirikovic, Vansyckle, McIntyre, & Irish, 2005). Aren’t higher test scores the main focus of educators today?

Children aren’t the only ones that need a break from the mundane curriculum. Teachers and aides need an opportunity to regain energy levels, discuss the day’s activities and observations, and get things in order for the next lesson on the agenda. With the heightened expectations of teachers and their accountability for academic progress, the break time that is offered by recess is extremely beneficial for both their job performance and state of mind. It may take them a few minutes to get their classes back on track to learn once they return from free-play, but it has been shown that students are more focused and well behaved after recess (Jarrett, 2002).

With so much evidence that supports the benefits of daily recess, it’s surprising that the elimination of it has even come into question. However, there are those who believe that recess is unnecessary and that it takes away from the time and focus on academics. For those people, I would advise to examine the research and the long term benefits that recess has been proven to offer, as well as, the potential negative effects that would result in making it a thing of the past.

Some say that school is a place for learning, not playing. I say that the learning that happens during interaction with peers as a child is irreplaceable by any academic lesson plan. Strong social skills are an integral part of moving forward in the world. Any career that you choose is going to require the ability to interact with people, whether it is with co-workers, vendors, patients, or customers. You can have the best academic resume in the world, but if you can’t make your way through an interview, the employer is going to choose someone else for the job. The social skills
required to communicate effectively and adapt to certain situations are only learned through personal experience. This personal experience starts on the school playground.

There is also the issue of bullying that comes into play when children are offered unstructured play time, such as recess. While that is a valid concern, and should be treated as such, children also need to learn life coping skills and resiliency. Life isn’t fair, and there is usually always a bully, even as an adult. Today’s children are being coddled too much, and given a false sense of security and protection. I feel it would be more beneficial to teach children how to deal with bullying situations, rather than treat them as if they don’t exist. Observation of student’s personalities during recess can help teachers and adults to identify who needs guidance in these areas, as well as, provide them the opportunity to pinpoint the bullies and stop them in their tracks.

Although there are arguments against recess, there is no research that supports the benefits of eliminating it from schools. While it may free up a few more minutes for teaching reading comprehension or long division, those minutes are counter-productive if these children have “zoned-out” and are unable to retain what is being taught. Recess needs to stay in schools, and be recognized for what it is; a playground of life lessons. BIBLIOGRAPHY

American Heart Association. (2012, November 26). Physical Activity and Children. Retrieved from website http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/Physical-Activity-and-Children_UCM_304053_Article.jsp Dale, D., Corbin, B., Dale, K. S. (2000). Restricting opportunities to be active during school time: Do children compensate by increasing physical activity levels after school? Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport 71(3):240-248. Jarrett, O. (2002, July). Recess in Elementary School: What Does the Research Say? (ERIC Digest). Retrieved from ERIC database. (ED466331) http://www.eric.ed.gov/ Jirikovic, R., Vansyckle, J., McIntyre, C., Irish, B. (2005). RECESS – TIME WELL SPENT! Retrieved from website http://www.timeday.org/pdf/newsletter_february_2006/Recess_Project.pdf