Pay It Forward
During elementary school, I remember staring at the analog clock still not being able to tell time. But I knew exactly where the big hand would be placed when it was time for recess. Recess was always the most anticipated time of the day, all twenty minutes of it. In my opinion, whoever thought of recess had the right idea. I remember the feeling of confinement sitting in the classroom, and the freedom I felt the second my feet touched the black top on the playground.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, in its 2017 policy statement titled, The Crucial Role of Recess in School describes recess as, “a necessary break in the day for optimizing a child’s social, emotional, physical, and cognitive development.” A child learns crucial life skills on the playground, like sharing and patience. Recess may be the only time during the day when children have an opportunity to experience socialization and real communication with their peers.
40% of school districts in the United States have reduced recess since the implementation of the No Child Left Behind act. Decreased opportunities for recess have been associated with increased academic pressure. Recess has been the ‘victim’ to the ‘bully’ of increased time spent preparing students for standardized testing and to meet demands for more instructional time. Seattle has been following a national trend in reducing recess time in primary grades as school districts bend to federal mandates to raise test scores. Yet no research supports the idea that test scores go up by keeping children in the classroom longer. However there is plenty of evidence that recess benefits children in cognitive, social-emotional, and physical ways.
We also know that young
people of color, especially
Black children, receive
discipline in school settings,
so they may be missing
out on more recess
than their peers.
City schools reported the lowest average minutes per day of recess: 24 minutes in first grade, and 17 minutes in sixth grade. Rural schools reported the highest average minutes per day: 31 minutes in first grade to 24 minutes in sixth grade.
The fewest minutes per day of recess, totaling 21 minutes in first grade, and 17 minutes in sixth grade, occurred in schools where 75 percent or more of the students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.
Given the evidence of the value of recess for children, what can educators, schools, and districts do to ensure every child across the state gets the same amount of time for recess? Students should get the same time regardless of the location of the school, race, and the income of the child’s household. Daily decisions about who gets recess and when and where it will happen are often made by teachers; they can establish and carry out alternatives to discipline other than withholding recess. We also know that young people of color, especially black children, receive disproportionately strict discipline in school settings, so they may be missing out on more recess than their peers.
Daily recess for every child supports a school’s mission of providing a high-quality, comprehensive, and meaningful education so students grow and reach their full potential.