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Recess – An Important Part of the School Day for All Students

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Updated January 18, 2013

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Recess – An Important Part of the School Day for All Students

Research links recess to improved physical health, social development, and cognitive performance. Recess also serves as a necessary break from the demands and rigors of concentrated academic work in the classroom.

Photo © Andersen Ross

Minimizing recess can negatively affect healthy development and school experience

A new policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published in the January 2013 issue of Pediatrics highlights the crucial role of recess for young children and adolescents.

There is a growing trend in many schools across the nation toward reducing or eliminating recess or free time from the school day in order to fit in more academic study. In addition, recess is often withheld from students as a form a punishment.

If you have a son or daughter with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), you may have experienced this with your own child. Part (or all) of recess may be lost if a student is not following classroom rules or is unable to finish class work in the designated amount of time. For kids with ADHD — who are highly distractible, impulsive and/or hyperactive and need these physical outlets and frequent breaks to better manage behaviors and learn pro-social skills — the loss of recess can be counterproductive.

Recess: A Crucial Component of a Child’s Development

The AAP policy statement recommends that recess never be withheld as a punishment and emphasizes that safe and well-supervised recess time offers cognitive, emotional, social and physical benefits.

Recess offers students time to engage in peer interactions and play in which they learn valuable communication, negotiation, cooperation, sharing and problem solving skills. These interactions and learning opportunities promote social and emotional development, especially when adult supervision is provided to guide learning and practice of pro-social skills.

Recess also offers kids time to be active and engage in creative play of their own choosing. The AAP emphasizes that recess should be used as a complement to physical education, not as a substitute. Physical education classes and recess serve different functions: P.E. tends to be more structured and focused on the development and practice of motor skills, while recess should provide free, unstructured play, physical activity and “personal time” for the student.

A Necessary Break from Academic Demands In Order to Recharge

Research links recess to improved physical health, social development, and cognitive performance. In addition to these benefits, recess also serves as a necessary break from the demands and rigors of concentrated academic work in the classroom.

Unfortunately, as students move into older grades, the time allotted to recess (and other breaks) tends to decrease, yet minimizing this free time can negatively affect academic achievement. Studies have found that students are more attentive and better able to perform cognitively after recess or a corresponding break time for adolescents.

Periodic breaks after concentrated academic time allow students time to rest, play, imagine, think, move, and socialize. They help reduce stresses and distractions that can interfere with cognitive processing and academic productivity, and essentially help students to recharge. The benefits of these unstructured breaks in the academic day apply equally to younger children and adolescents, so preserving this time is essential.

Optimal Amount of Recess Each Day

According to the AAP policy statement, recess should be scheduled at regular intervals, providing children sufficient time to regain their focus before instruction continues. Though there is consensus about the need for regularly scheduled recess times, there is not an optimal length of time specified for these breaks. In the United States, free times can range from 20 to 60 minutes per school day.

The policy statement notes that in other countries (such as Japan), primary school-aged children are given a 10 to 15 minute break every hour. The thinking behind this schedule reflects the fact that, for most children, this age attention span begins to wane after 40-50 minutes of intense instruction. Students with ADHD, however, could benefit from even more frequent breaks, as maintaining attention is much more challenging.

Listing of AAP recommendations from "The Crucial Role of Recess in School" policy statement on page 2.

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