My son Michael had a gifted and creative teacher for grades four and five who packed the school day with inventive activities and new approaches to learning.
The only downside?
She deemed recess less important than her curriculum, and the kids often got only one twenty-five minute lunch break between the hours of 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. Tack on the to-and-from bus rides, and those kids spent 8 or nine hours with the one wee break.
Michael began to dislike school.
After a few weeks the teacher and I talked. She was confused by the changes in Michael’s classroom behavior. He fidgeted, lost focus and talked at inappropriate times. This was all new.
“Let him go outside for 10 minutes every morning and every afternoon. Give him a responsibility if you want, but let him release some energy outside of the classroom.”
Michael became the tether ball and net monitor, responsible for installing and removing the playground equipment each day. His teacher saw an immediate improvement in classroom behavior, and Michael liked school a whole lot more.
Now, over a decade later, other professionals are talking about the phenomenon of school days without breaks.
Dr. Romina M. Barros, from Pediatric Developmental Behavioral Health in New York, and her colleagues looked at a national database of over 11,000 third and forth graders. Children had one of two levels of recess: none/minimal (1 to 15 minutes a day) or “some recess.” The population was divided equally between boys and girls.
The Findings: Kids with more recess behaved better in school, according to a teacher rating system.
Barros says, “…we have to think that r ecess should be part of the education system, and if we have to get more help, we’ll have to get more help. Even if we don’t have space, if they could have 15 minutes indoors. Unstructured time, that’s all that they need.”
It’s clear that the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 resulted in less recess for the majority of American children. “They started to find out that kids in the U.S. were not doing well compared to other countries and started penalizing schools when kids weren’t passing the state test,” Barros explained. “That’s when schools [reduced or eliminated recess] not only because of space, but also because they wanted to put more in academics.”
Dr. Barrios isn’t the only medical expert speaking out for more recess time. And exercise isn’t the only reason.
“ Conflict resolution is solved on the playground, not in the classroom,” said Dr. Jane Ripperger-Suhler, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral science and pediatrics at Texas A & M Health Science Center College of Medicine. She recommends at least one 20-minute break during which children participate in freely-chosen physical activities, saying that Asian students tend to out-score their American counterparts and that “most Asian elementary schools allow children a 10-minute break after every 40 minutes to 50 minutes of instruction.”
Perhaps we need to reevaluate the manner in which we “leave no children behind,” and reconsider the Alfred Adler quote, “Play is a child’s work and this is not a trivial pursuit.”