The value of recess

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

A new study suggests the value of recess has been underestimated and that Ohio children should be getting more recess time, not less. "Kids need breaks far more than adults do during the day," said the study's author, Catherine L. Ramstetter, Ph.D., MS, CSCS. "Many students just aren't getting that break time at school."

A member of the Home and School Health Committee for the Ohio Chapter, American Academy of Pediatrics, Ramstetter said many districts curtailed or cut recess time to better deal with testing mandates from the No Child Left Behind Act. While hoping to add educational content, Ramstetter said the recess reduction actually takes away from a child's ability to function in a classroom. "A child's attention span begins to wane after 40 minutes on intense instruction," she said. "Recess provides children a chance to refocus."

A Ph.D. candidate at the University of Cincinnati, Ramstetter said recess breaks as short as 10 minutes in duration improve children's learning efficiency and a teacher's aptitude during the other 50 minutes of a school hour.

"We've all felt the stress of a difficult work day with no time to recharge," Ramstetter said. "Any parent can tell you how important stress breaks are for our kids. Too many students don't get that necessary time at school and that needs to change."

Dr. Robert Murray, Home and School Health Committee chair, said the benefit of recess go "beyond the classroom," with children developing better social-emotional skills. "Finding time to engage in social interactions helps children better communicate, share, and cooperate," he said. "When parents practically have to drag kids away from the TV, the failure to develop those skills through recess is a lost opportunity that harms child development."

In addition to the mental benefits of recess, Ramstetter said unstructured playtime also offers kids physical benefits, especially for young children still reinforcing movement and motor skills. "Recess is a complement to, not a replacement for, physical education classes," Ramstetter stressed. "Physical education provides kids with life-long physical fitness concepts. Recess can reinforce those lessons while helping kids better cope with the challenges of their day."

Murray said the research also uncovered some "surprises" in terms of when recess should occur. "Most schools have lunch, then recess," he said. "Turns out having recess first actually makes more sense for the child."

The CDC, the United States Department of Agriculture, the National Food Service Management Institute, and Action for Healthy Kids support the "Recess Before Lunch" initiative. Ramstetter said many kids rush through lunch to get outside, resulting in more food being wasted. She said teachers and researchers saw better behavior at and after meal time when it followed recess.

"We also learned that the duration and timing of recess can vary by building. We hope districts can come up with consistent policies that best fit their needs," she added.

Dr. Murray plans to share the report's findings with local school leaders, legislators and other child advocates. More than a dozen organizations have already agreed to support the retaining and restoration of recess. Ramstetter hopes sharing those success stories helps drive change. "We know everyone has to do more with less," she said. "We want to work with schools to help better the educational, physical and social development of Ohio's children."