Recently I read an article in which a mother details the conversation she had with her two sons about their experience with indoor recess through the cold winter. The kids said that indoor recess was “more fun” and “more safe,” they liked it better. This conversation led to an article in the Globe and Mail titled “When Kids Dread Recess, We Have a Problem.”
There’s ample evidence to support the importance of recess for student’s social, emotional and cognitive development. In a recent report titled “Recess: An important aspect of school success” published by the government of Quebec notes that “kids who play well … learn, succeed and grow well.” So why is recess more than just a break from classroom time? How does it support education and learning? How does it support the development of healthy, well rounded individuals? Here is a summary from the report:
- Breaks help you learn: Research has found that memory and attention improve when learning is spaced rather than presented all at once; breaks between tasks allow for better energy expenditure and increase children’s cognitive performance.
- Recess allows for socialization: The lifelong skills acquired for communication, negotiation, cooperation, sharing, problem solving and coping are practiced during free play.
- Fidgeting is curbed with recess: Studies have confirmed that disruptive behaviours decrease when students are given enough breaks. If fidgeting becomes a problem in the classroom, recess is the perfect solution since students who have regular breaks and are especially active during them are less agitated and get better grades.
- Physical activity turns the brain on for learning: Physically active children are more mentally alert and more attentive in class. Exercise itself doesn’t make you smarter, but it does put the learner’s brain in an optimal position for learning.
- Recess helps kids learn important life lessons: During recess, children should have the freedom to be autonomous so they can discover a capacity to take initiatives and accept challenges. They should have the possibility to learn about differences, take risks, manage anger, resolve conflicts, and deal with fear and limits without adult guidance.
- A well-planned recess has many benefits: Elementary schools should develop schoolyard management action plans that would make play areas safe, and conducive to the practice of physical activities and the development of harmonious relationships. When recess is done well:
- children more open to learning when returning to class;
- fewer conflicts to manage;
- more effective time management;
- more coherent interventions;
- an increase in the practice of physical activities among children
So what steps can be taken to ensure that recess is done well, so that our children can report that it is both safe and fun?! The first step is to establish a recess committee who will focus on all aspects of recess. This committee could refer to the following resource which details evidence based strategies for creating quality recess: Recess Moves: A toolkit for quality recess. A wide range of education and health research identifies some common best practices for elementary schools to include in implementing a “quality recess.” The following components are recommended:
- Daily recess for all students of at least 20 minutes. Outdoors preferred
- Teach positive playground expectations
- Create student choice and universal participation by offering multiple activities a every recess
- Map the playground to designate different areas of play
- Provide game equipment to increase participation and to decrease congestion on play structures
- Provide group games, led and supervised by adults, as one option to actively engage kids and help build social skills
- Provide adequate planning and staff training for recess
For details on each of these and how to accomplish them, refer to the Recess Moves toolkit.
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