The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently weighed in on the heavily debated issue of recess in schools and determined that it is a crucial and necessary component of a child’s development. In fact, it’s as important as reading, writing and arithmetic.
Recess is most children’s favorite period, and parents and teachers should encourage that trend, according to a new policy statement released in the journal Pediatrics by the AAP.
“Children need to have downtime between complex cognitive challenges,” Dr. Robert Murray, a pediatrician and professor of human nutrition at the Ohio State University who is a co-author of the AAP statement, tells Time Magazine in a recent article on the issue. “They tend to be less able to process information the longer they are held to a task. It’s not enough to just switch from math to English. You actually have to take a break.”
The pediatricians’ recommendations come at a time when a national survey found that just six states (Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, Illinois and Iowa) adhere to standards from the National Association for Sports and Physical Education (NASPE) that schoolchildren participate in 150 minutes a week of physical education. Only three states (Delaware, Virginia and Nebraska) mandate 20 minutes of elementary-school recess daily.
In their role as child health experts, the pediatricians of the AAP stress the following perspective to parents, teachers, school administrators, and policy makers in its new policy statement:
- Recess is a necessary break in the day for optimizing a child’s social, emotional, physical, and cognitive development. In essence, recess should be considered a child’s personal time, and it should not be withheld for academic or punitive reasons.
- Cognitive processing and academic performance depend on regular breaks from concentrated classroom work. This applies equally to adolescents and to younger children. To be effective, the frequency and duration of breaks should be sufficient to allow the student to mentally decompress.
- Recess is a complement to, but not a replacement for, physical education. Physical education is an academic discipline. Whereas both have the potential to promote activity and a healthy lifestyle, only recess (particularly unstructured recess) provides the creative, social, and emotional benefits of play.
- Recess can serve as a counterbalance to sedentary time and contribute to the recommended 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per day, a standard strongly supported by AAP policy as a means to lessen risk of overweight.
- Whether structured or unstructured, recess should be safe and well supervised. Although schools should ban games and activities that are unsafe, they should not discontinue recess altogether just because of concerns connected with child safety. Environmental conditions, well-maintained playground equipment, and well-trained supervisors are the critical components of safe recess.
- Peer interactions during recess are a unique complement to the classroom. The lifelong skills acquired for communication, negotiation, cooperation, sharing, problem solving, and coping are not only foundations for healthy development but also fundamental measures of the school experience.
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