States slowly embrace mandatory recess
(Mass.) Massachusetts could become one of only seven states to require that schools set aside time in the day to ensure all students have recess under legislation awaiting the governor’s signature.
Meanwhile, similar laws in both Florida and Rhode Island went into effect this year as more lawmakers begin to recognize the benefits daily free-play or unstructured recess has for children.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reviewed 50 studies and concluded that exercise and movement are positively associated with learning. Among them, students tend to focus more and be less fidgety after recess once they’ve burned through some of their excess energy and reduce stress. And because the brain is more activated during physical activity, students who are physically active often have higher test scores and a more positive outlook toward school, and typically achieve higher academic performances.
Unstructured play also provides time for students to develop social skills as they learn how to appropriately socialize and communicate with one another. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, the opportunity recess provides students to be physically active can reduce childhood obesity, which can lead to heart disease or high blood pressure. Physical activity is also necessary for proper development of strength and sensory functions.
In a statement calling on state and district leaders to provide this time for students, the American Academy of Pediatrics concluded that in addition to serving as a necessary break from the rigors of concentrated, academic challenges in the classroom, “safe and well-supervised recess offers cognitive, social, emotional, and physical benefits that may not be fully appreciated when a decision is made to diminish it.”
Despite the overwhelming research pointing to the many benefits of recess, many schools have cut that time first in an effort to give teachers more time to prepare students academically for high stakes tests. And in schools where recess is offered, taking it away is often used as punishment for misbehavior or not turning in homework. Other school have opted to hold recess on days where children don’t have physical education.
Throughout the country states are ramping up efforts to ensure that students have recess, or at the very least, that schools have children participate in physical activity outside the classroom for varying amounts of time each week. Some states, including California, have moved to bar teachers from taking away recess as punishment.
In Massachusetts, if the bill is signed, schools will be required to provide at least 20 minutes of daily recess in grades K-5. The state would join Missouri, Connecticut, Florida and Rhode Island in requiring a 20-minute recess for elementary school students. Virginia and Indiana also require recess, but don’t specify a minimum time requirement.
Colorado, South Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas are among the handful of states that require some form of general and physical activity. In total, 11 states officially recommend that schools offer recess.