Remember recess? The sound of the bell announcing that you could leave for recess and running, RUNNING! out to the playground for 20 minutes of unadulterated play. Pick-up games of touch football, red rover-red rover, tag, jumping rope with taking turns jumping in, swinging as high as you dared, kick ball, and climbing on monkey bars. Always dreading the inevitable bell announcing the end of playtime and the needed return back to the classroom.

I remember those beautiful fall and spring days, watching out the window from the classroom, wondering when the time would ever come so we could get outside. The time inside seemed to drag forever. I clearly remember my friends and me jumping rope, running and playing while I remember little else of grade school.

Today’s kids in grade school have minimal physical activity. Physical education is composed more of education about sports and how they should be played than the actual sport itself. Recess has been eliminated after 2nd grade in many schools . . . meanwhile, we evaluate more and more kids for Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Kids are frequently punished for classroom problems by losing recess time, despite the fact that many emotional problems and needs can be worked out through play and exercise.

Discipline is often handed out by having to stand at recess, watching their peers run and play, because they were too inattentive. I wonder how this will help the situation. Schools eliminate recess, stating they need the time to provide more educational materials than ever before. The U.S. has some of the lowest test scores of industrialized nations despite adding additional classroom time. Research has proven that learning actually improves when the brain is given a break. Olga Jarrett cites studies that prove kids up to the 4th grade need not only recess, but also music and art classes to improve overall school performances. These “breaks” from academics improve classroom management for teachers and helps children learn. Click here for a brief related article.

Recess also provides social interaction that is missing for most kids today, as even lunchtime is structured in many schools. Recess and free play times offer kids opportunities to introduce their own cultural norms into the playground with their peers, to negotiate rules of games, turn-taking, leadership and cooperation. Physical education does not offer these same skills because the activity is structured and planned. Peer leaders are developed on playgrounds and conflict negotiation skills are developed during games and peer interactions. Playground supervision is necessary at all times, but many useful social skills are developed including basic communication and conflict resolution. Recess may be the only social interaction that many kids have with peers throughout the day, as schools become more and more structured. Teachers notice decreased fidgeting and increased attention spans and retention of material following recess times. A five year study found that schools providing recess found improved fitness, attitudes, and a slight improvement in test scores.

In the U.S., as many as 60% of kids are overweight or obese. Physicians blame high intake of fast food, junk foods such as chips, pizza and pop, lack of physical exercise, and early use of computers and video games as key contributes to our kids declining health. Kids as young as 10 are being diagnosed with hypertension. One in every seven kids from a low income family is diagnosed as obese. Despite the diagnosis of obesity, many of these same kids are suffering from vitamin deficiencies.

Government assistance via food stamps allows purchase of any food items, including soda, chips, bakery cakes, snack cakes and cookies and any type of meat. A program that provides for woman and infants only (WIC) is highly structured and indicates that purchases must be limited to baby food, milk, eggs, whole grain cereals, hamburger, chicken, fish, 100% fruit juice, fresh fruits and vegetables, spaghetti, blocks of cheese, cans of tuna or salmon, peanut butter, bag of navy or pinto beans, and rice. There is a huge caloric and nutritional difference in the types of food allowed in these programs! Imagine if all government assistance clients were required to purchase this type of food only. How would this affect the rates of childhood malnutrition?

Is your child getting recess every school day? Contact your child’s school and ask about their policy on recess. Every child should be attending at least one period of unstructured play to ensure improved attention and retention. A child saying that recess is their favorite subject may not a problem! They are onto something.