Do Kids Need Recess?

My son, who is going into the fifth grade, is always moving, always on the go. However, his school has eliminated recess at the fifth grade level. Do kids need recess?

Question:

The elimination of recess is a growing trend as schools search for new ways to increase the amount of "time on learning." It also frees schools of the concerns of physical injuries and playground supervision. But, what school administrators fail to realize is that by doing away with recess, they may be hindering a child's ability to learn successfully.

Jane M. Healy, an educational psychologist, in her new book, Failure to Connect writes: "For some time researchers have been examining provocative links between brain functioning and the positive effects of physical activity. Regular exercise increases the blood supply to the brain, thus giving it a greater oxygen and energy supply -- for mental abilities. In addition, chemicals secreted by the brain during and after exercise enable it to deal better with stress and anxiety ... and help children learn more efficiently by harnessing power for learning and memory. Scientists also suggest that the type of exercise most likely to achieve these positive effects is "unforced," the type of spontaneous play in which children just naturally engage."

Children who are not given free time that is truly "free time," have difficulties in focussing and keeping their attention on task. This is easy to understand. As you've gone about your daily work, you've probably learned that taking a break now and then helps your mind to feel refreshed, to work more efficiently. Without a break, it seems to take your brain twice the time to complete simple tasks. Some administrators will tell you that time spent on the computer or playing educational games is a break. Not so. Children need time to think their own thoughts, to create their own plans, to daydream.

Losing out on recess also causes children to lose out on the opportunity to build social and problem solving skills. The playground has always been the place where children have best learned to use logic, to develop strategies and to negotiate.

What's most unfortunate is that this trend often begins, as with your son's school, at the fifth grade level. However, fifth graders in particular need exercise for proper development. Chip Wood, author of Yardsticks, tells us that the upper body strength of the 10-year-old is generally underdeveloped. Extra recess and playtime is a must or the need for physical activity will spill over into acting-out behavior.

And Nancy Richard, a child development expert, writes in the developmental overview of "How is My Fifth Grader Doing in School?": "Unable to sit in their seats for long periods of time, fifth graders need to shift activities often. They need frequent breaks for movement. In the afternoon, especially, and they can get very 'antsy' if there is no recess or built in activity in the curriculum."

I would encourage you to talk with your child's school administrators. If you find that they are unwilling to change the recess policy this year, make sure that your child has plenty of time to play at home. Try not to schedule many structured activities after school. And recommend that your son start his homework after he's had some solid time to move.

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