Texas Schools Are Increasing Recess Times With Astonishing Results

For years recess has been a bargaining chip in schools across America. Some teachers use it as a reward for good behavior, and threatening to take away recess is a punishment every student is familiar with. Over the years as schools continue to pile on state testing, advanced curriculums, and other mandates, recess has often been the first thing to go. Some schools have even eliminated it all together. But is recess perhaps more important than we ever gave it credit for?

Several schools in Texas, Oklahoma, and California are piloting a new program that drastically increases the amount of recess given to elementary students, and they say the results are nothing short of a miracle. The program suggests students be given 4 15-minute recess breaks throughout the day to break up the routine and give them a chance to expand some of that boundless energy they seem to have. Teachers at the schools say kids are more focused, calmer and there are fewer behavior issues in the school because of it.

“Recess serves as a necessary break from the rigors of concentrated, academic challenges in the classroom. But equally important is the fact that 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.”

-The American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council on School Health

Any teacher will tell you that no one, especially a child, is built to sit still for 8 or 9 hours a day. Turning classrooms into mini-office workspaces leads to boredom and unrest. For children (and adults for that matter), that results in a tremendous lack of focus and an inability to get anything accomplished. So then why has recess time been whittled away over the years? The first place to look is the increase in standardized testing.

For years, state and federal governments have pushed to tie standardized test scores to school funding and even teacher pay. That means administrators and teachers are under the gun to improve test scores under any circumstances, and in many schools that meant eliminating anything that wasn’t 100% “educational”. Schools have stripped away art, music and other elective classes so students can spend even more time drilling down those “testable” subjects. But as Richard Dreyfuss’ character so eloquently said in the 1995 film “Mr. Holland’s Opus”

“Sooner or later, these kids aren’t going to have anything to read or write about.”

Now, there’s research to back up the push for more recess. A study published several years ago looked at classroom behavior of 8 and 9-year-olds. They found that students with at least one 15-minute recess break were able to focus better in class and had fewer behavior issues. Another more recent study actually showed that the more physically active boys are, the more gains they make in reading and math.

Moving forward more and more states are course-correcting and reinstituting recess for elementary school students. In some cases, laws have even been passed requiring schools to give kids a certain amount of recess every day. That, coupled with teacher and administrator push back on the amount of standardized testing, will hopefully lead to classrooms full of engaged students who are in the right frame of mind to learn instead of wondering when they’ll be released from their educational prison.

Recess is one of the only times during the school day when children get to be children. They invent new games, build friendships, learn social behavior and get in some physical activity while they’re at it. If we’re really concerned about turning students into well-adjusted members of society, those are exactly the kind of lessons they need to be learning.

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David Rode

Dave is a middle school math teacher. He's also a musician, a community theater, dad to two amazing children, and he doesn't get a lot of sleep.

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