Keep recess in play, pediatricians urge

Recess is good for a kid's body and mind, and withholding theseregular breaks in the school day may be counterproductive to healthychild development, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics'first policy statement on the issue.

Increasing pressures onschools to find more time for academics has resulted in "an erosion ofrecess time around the country," says statement co-author Robert Murray,a professor of pediatrics at Ohio State University. "But we have acouple of decades of research now that indicates that recess plays ahuge role in a child's life, and not just because it's fun."

Safeand properly supervised recess offers children "cognitive, physical,emotional and social benefits," he says, including better attentionspan, improved classroom behavior, and an important opportunity forfree, unstructured play, creativity and interaction with other kids.

Infact, the policy statement recommends that recess never be withheld as apunishment or for academic reasons because the break serves a "crucialrole" in a child's development and social interaction.

About 73%of elementary schools provide regular recess for all grades, but "it'sdifficult to quantify at a national level exactly how many schools aretaking it away as a policy," says Catherine Ramstetter, a healtheducator at The Christ College of Nursing and Health Sciences inCincinnati and co-author of the statement.

Studies cited by theauthors note that up to 40% of U.S. school districts have reduced oreliminated recess to allow more time for core academics, and one in fourelementary schools no longer provides access to all grades.

In a2010 Gallup Survey of 1,951 principals and other school officials, 77%reported eliminating recess as a punishment; one in five reportedcutting recess time to meet testing requirements.

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"Recessmay look very different from one school to another," she adds, notingthat facilities, location, and weather, for example, can dictate howindividual schools provide recess.

With increased attention tothe obesity crisis among children, recess has gained added focus as anopportunity for much-needed physical activity and fitness.

But the academy's statement says it should be viewed as "a complement to physical education -- not a substitute."

Recess"might allow time to practice something learned in physical educationclass, but it might also be a time for free play, creative play,imagination, or just sitting around and talking with friends," saysRamstetter.

It's important to view recess as "a child's personaltime to decompress from rigorous academic activity and to prepare forthe next rigorous activity," says Murray.

High school studentsget a similar opportunity as they change classes and adults have it whenthey "go for a coffee break and talk with their colleagues and thencome back for the next task," he says. This personal time for kids"should not be taken away for either academic or disciplinary reasons.We need to protect recess time."


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