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Longer Recess, Stronger Child Development

Longer Recess, Stronger Child Development

17 March, 2016

With an hour-long recess, elementary schools can help children develop through increased creative play, authentic SEL, and adequate physical regulation.

Shortfalls of a Short Recess

Many teachers report that the period after recess is the absolute hardest transition time of the day. The children are frequently so wound up that it’s hard bring their focus back to their lessons. Some teachers admit to using special approaches to calm and re-focus the children, such as dimming the lights or playing soothing music as they reenter the classroom. While these are great coping methods to help manage the chaos, preventing episodes of amplified activity from occurring in the first place may prove to be the most beneficial. To do that, we need to allow for a longer recess session. It is boldly suggested to give at least an hour

A sufficient amount of recess time (or lack thereof) can directly influence children’s ability to pay attention, self-regulate, socialize intelligently, and master complex learning skills. We can try to squeeze in short movement breaks here and there, but it won’t have the same effects — or, for that matter, even the same potential. Small movement breaks will always fall short of a good old-fashioned lengthy recess time.

The following are three reasons why:

  1. Creative Play: Recess sessions that last atleast an hour have the potential to foster creative play. Many early childhood centers emphasize the importance of “large blocks of time (45-60 minutes)” for play throughout the day to help children develop “problem-solving skills that require persistence and engagement.”  Observations through our summer camp program consistently demonstrate that it takes an average of 45 minutes of free play before children dive deep into more complex and evolved play schemes. It takes time for children to figure out who they’re going to play with, what they’re going to play, what everyone’s role will be, and finally to execute their plan. If recess lasts only 15-20 minutes, the children are just figuring out who they’ll play with and what they’ll do before the bell rings and recess is over. Many times, this allows for few (if any) imaginative play opportunities.
  2. Social-Emotional Development:In recent years, children have shown more trouble reading social cues, demonstrating empathy, and effectively socializing with their peers. Schools have created special “social skills groups” to help combat this problem. However, these adult-directed gatherings that emphasize role-playing are limited in their applicability. Children learn social skills best through real-life scenarios and play opportunities with their peers. They quickly learn that whining doesn’t work with friends and that they don’t always get what they want.To learn effective social skills, children need plenty of chances to freely engage with other children. If recess is long enough, it offers an ideal environment to practice these skills.
  3. Physical Regulation:Children require longer than 20 minutes of active free play in order toregulate their bodies and be ready for learning. In fact, when you first let children outdoors, their initial movement experiences will actually increase their activity levels. According to Eric Jensen’s book Teaching With the Brain in Mind, “A short recess arouses students and may leave them ‘hyper’ and less able to concentrate.” Children benefit from an extended recess session (approximately an hour in length), because it provides their bodies time to regulate the movement and bring their activity level back down again.

A Call to Active Play

Let’s face it: the current 20-minute recess sessions are not long enough. A mere 20 minutes won’t let children to dive deep into their imaginary worlds or create elaborate play schemes. This is not enough time for children to practice effective social skills — something that’s lacking in this age of technology. And a short recess won’t allow children regulate their bodies to prepare them for higher-level learning experiences.

If recess sessions are made a little longer, significant changes in child behavior, attention, and even creativity will be seen. The Swanson Primary School in Auckland, New Zealand is a perfect example of giving children more time and freedom at recess, and of the many benefits they saw as a result.