Recess is just as important as class time for kids, says the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). And the AAP says that children are not getting enough recess. The professional group issued a policy statement in the journal Pediatrics. It recommended against using recess time for academics. It also did not recommend taking away recess time as punishment. Recess is important for physical activity. It's also a time when children can choose their own activities, learn to communicate better and have fun. The AAP said that structured recess has some advantages. In structured recess, children are involved in organized activities. But this does not allow for free choice or relaxation time. ABC News wrote about the statement December 31.
By Claire McCarthy, M.D.
Harvard Medical School
What Is the Doctor's Reaction?
Recess is important for children.
Thats the bottom line of the policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released today in the journal Pediatrics.
Its easy to think of recess time as extra time that could be used for other, more important activities. And because school is supposed to be for teaching children, why not use recess for more academics? Well, says the AAP, there are several reasons why using recess for academics, or taking it away as a punishment, are bad ideas:
- Recess gives children a break. It helps them to concentrate and learn better afterward.
- Free play gives children a chance to learn communication skills. These include negotiation, sharing and problem solving.
- Free play gives children a chance to learn coping skills, such as perseverance and self-control.
- Recess gives children a chance to exercise. Given the childhood obesity epidemic, that is very important.
- Recess gives young children the opportunity for free activity, for the sheer joy of it.
Some school districts are in favor of structured recess: Children engage in organized physical activities instead of free play. The AAP points out that this approach has pros and cons. Children need exercise, and structured recess can give them thisincluding children who are less likely to exercise on their own. Structured recess also offers adults the chance to be actively involved with children, helping them with interpersonal skills. And teachers have reported that kids behave better after vigorous exercise.
However, structured recess is less of a break. It doesn't allow children to do activities they choose. For some children, that could be difficult.
Something in between is likely best, says the AAP. Children should be encouraged and helped to be active, but schools also should recognize the developmental benefits of unstructured time.
To ensure that recess is safe, and to help children get the most out of it, the AAP encourages:
- Having enough safe recess space
- Proper recess equipment that is regularly inspected
- Safety rules that are enforced
- A recess curriculum to teach games, rules and conflict resolution
- Policies to prevent bullying or aggressive behavior
- Supervision by qualified adults
What Changes Can I Make Now?
If you are a parent of a school-aged child, get involved in your child's school and school district. This is a good idea for all sorts of reasons. It gives you a chance to learn about and be part of your child's education. It also gives you a chance to speak up not only about the importance of recess, but also about the importance of using recess time in the best ways possible.
No matter the type of recess your child has at school, it's important that parents make sure that their children get plenty of exercise, as well as unstructured, unscheduled time. The AAP recommends that children get an hour of physical activity every day.
What Can I Expect Looking to the Future?
We all want what's best for our children. We want them to be healthy, happy and successful not just now, but also in the future. The challenge for parents, teachers, communities and policymakers is figuring out how best to achieve this. Policy statements such as this one help guide us as we make important decisions for our children.