What Compares to Recess?

Recess: temporary withdrawal or cessation from the usual work or activity 

Included in a document titled “Recess and the Importance of Play,” the National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education takes the position that,

“…recess is an essential component of education and that preschool and elementary school children must have the opportunity to participate in regular periods of active, free play with peers.”

The National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in the State Department of Education continues to define recess specifically as “free play” typically occurring outdoors or in a designated play area. In cases of inclement weather, this may include game rooms, gymnasiums, or classrooms. It is also included that 40% of elementary schools in the United States are considering reducing or deleting scheduled recess in the school day. There are numerous benefits to this “unstructured play,” including: increased test scores and learning resulting from breaks in the school day, the reduction of stress, ability to make choices and expand creativity, energy release, and a wide range of social and emotional development.


What activities are considered recess? Should educators regulate these types of activities?

 My experience with recess varied through elementary school. I remember loving the opportunity to play outside in kindergarten, first grade, and second grade, where I recall hopscotching, digging in the sand, playing on the monkey bars, and using my imagination to play games with my classmates. In these years, the designated recess time would pass quickly and was the highlight of every day. In third through fifth grade, I remember spending the majority of my recess time chatting with friends, swinging, and walking laps around our track. On some days, one or two of the teachers would stay inside during recess and would allow students to play board games in their room. And on other occasions, I remember staying in my teacher’s classroom with a few friends to help her erase the white board, clean the plastic film used on the projector, and organizing the classroom library. I always enjoyed helping my teachers although this didn’t give me the physical activity that recess encourages.

While there were times where I enjoyed spending my recess-time indoors, I think it is important that we emphasize the importance of providing students with unstructured free-play. Time for creativity, exercise, socialization, and fun. Teachers, school administrators, and policy makers need to understand the importance of this time and the benefits that it has for learning and the productivity of the school day. Many school policies that are adapting this practice into indoor-time and curriculum-based games, but this is not providing students with the full benefits of recess. Children should have the opportunity to explore, play, interact with others, run free, and clear their minds, especially at an elementary-school age. In addition to playing outside, I would argue that time in-doors is generally not comparable and shouldn’t be valued at the same level that time outside is. These are prime childhood experiences and while it may seem traditional, straying from the technology that our society emphasizes so heavily, are incomparable to many other forms of play.

So what’s next? For older students and adults, are work/learning environments more productive when they provide free time to work on projects that one views as important (such as the “20% Time” policy where Google presents their employees with a schedule designating a fifth of their time to completing projects that they think will benefit Google)? And along these lines, how can we effectively provide a “recess” to older students and adults?  





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