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It has been proven that recess is critical for a child’s social, emotional, and cognitive development.  Now research is actually showing how schools with more recess have happier, smarter, and more focused students.   In fact, recess even helps students to be more friendly and social.

“Recess is the only place in school, maybe the only place in their social life, where kids have the opportunity to develop social skills with their peers,” says Murry, former chairman of the AAP’s Council on School Health.

A group of kids posing for the camera wearing rain boots.

Finnish educators had found that adding more recess time had completely transformed students’ academic performance.

“According to a long-accepted U.S. educational paradigm, schools have been cutting down on breaks to squeeze in more instructional time in the classroom, believing it improves academic performance.

But instead of yielding the desired result, students are fidgeting, failing to stay on task, or zoning out completely. Testing reveals progressively lower scores in reading, math, and science for the past 20 years, and the U.S. remains in the middle of the pack on national and global assessments.
Finnish educators had found that adding more recess time had completely transformed students’ academic performance, with scores consistently at or near the top in international education rankings.

Rhea decided to take a sabbatical in Finland and observe the process firsthand.  During six intensive weeks arranged by the University of Helsinki, she talked to dozens of educators, watched students, and observed many noteworthy differences.

Students in Finland spend 15 minutes at recess every hour for unstructured playtime. 

Strong research in Finland shows that children who engage in more physical activity and play do better academically than children who are sedentary.  From kindergarten through eighth grade, students in Finland spend 15 minutes of every hour in recess, enjoying unstructured outdoor play. During that time, they love to make up games, expanding their imaginations and creativity.”- 50million

The Harvard education professor Howard Gardner once advised Americans, “Learn from Finland, which has the most effective schools and which does just about the opposite of what we are doing in the United States.”   Before the age of 7, children learn through play, songs, and conversation… not through formal education.  They also do not have long school hours or a lot of homework.

“Unlike in the United States, where many schools are slashing recess, schoolchildren in Finland have a mandatory 15-minute outdoor free-play break every hour of every day. Fresh air, nature and regular physical activity breaks are considered engines of learning.

According to one Finnish maxim, “There is no bad weather. Only inadequate clothing.” – William Doyle, author & contributor to LAtimes

Rhea talked about how the Finnish students improved in academics and behavior, quite dramatically:  “Finland had gone from an F to an A in a decade, so I needed to see what they were doing over there.” 

School in Texas increased recess and saw improved test scores, behavior and focus.

After Rhea learned about the schools and recess breaks in Finland, she started an initiative in the United States to increase recess.   She was given the grant to begin the project at a school in Fort Worth, Texas.  It was called the LiiNK Project.  It involves character development education, as well as increase recess.

A school in Texas took part in the LiiNK Project, where students in K-1 had four 15-minute recess breaks a day.   “Adopting LiiNK requires eliminating one hour of instructional time each day. That is a high risk for educators who believe more instruction leads to higher test scores. But research shows vast benefits to providing kids recess.”

“In districts that have adopted LiiNK, the teachers, administrators, and parents raved about its effects on students. The additional recess, they said, helped their kids focus better, misbehave less, and even lose weight. There were benefits for teachers, too. Sandra Hill, a third-grade teacher at Chavez with 18 years experience, said better-behaved kids improved her morale. She described the difference between teaching LiiNK kids and the kids at her previous schools as “night and day.”   “This year was hands down, the easiest year I’ve had with behavior.”

Cindy Griggs, a kindergarten teacher at Eagle Mountain Elementary, a LiiNK school in Fort Worth, described a similar change. Recalling her students’ behavior before LiiNK was implemented four years ago, she said, “They were always antsy, messing with the name tags on their desks, poking each other, rolling around on the floor.”

But now with the extra recess: “They’re able to get all that energy out. Coming in, they’ll just be sitting on the carpet zoned in and engaged for 45 minutes.”
– DMagazine    More information, as well as the results of the LiiNK project is  available on the LiiNK website

District LiiNK coordinator Candice Williams-Martin states: “We’ve seen some amazing changes in our students.  Their creative writing has improved. Their fine motor skills have improved, their BMI [Body Mass Index] has improved. Attention in the classroom has improved.”

recess makes students preform better

Improved Test Scores and Behavior from Adding Recess

A 2009 study of 11,000 third graders published in Pediatrics, shows that adding more play to the day, not less, improves the likelihood of better test scores and behavior.

According to the US News: “The latest news supporting recess comes from a survey of 1,951 principals or deputy, assistant, or vice-principals polled by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.  It found that:

  • Recess has a positive impact on academic achievement.
  • Students listen better after recess and are more focused in class.
  • Recess has a beneficial effect on children’s social development.
  • Recess improves children’s well-being overall.”

One in four elementary schools no longer provide a daily recess.

Schools everywhere are slashing recess time in order to increase instruction time, but at what cost?

“Deb McCarthy, a fifth-grade teacher at Lillian M. Jacobs Elementary School in Hull, Massachusetts, said she started seeing an increase in behavioral problems and anxiety about eight years ago. She blames it on the heightened expectations and loss of playtime at school. There are schools where kids have no recess at all, she said, because time once set aside for play is now dedicated to testing prep.

“It makes me want to cry,” McCarthy said, echoing the frustrations of many elementary teachers across the nation, who have argued that more ‘seat time’ was not developmentally appropriate. “I’ve been teaching for 22 years, and I’ve seen firsthand the change.” – Edutopia

A little girl dancing in the grass.

The benefits of recess go beyond the value of the time outside.

“A 2014 study of more than 200 elementary students, for example, found that physical activity improved students’ fitness and brain function, enhancing their accuracy and reaction time in cognitive tasks.

Other studies have concluded that children who have unstructured time during the school day exhibit greater creativity and problem-solving skills, are less disruptive, and learn crucial social lessons like how to resolve disputes and form cooperative relationships.”

Let children be children… and they will succeed. ♥

Professor and associate dean at Texas Christian University, Debbie Rhea, launched the recess initiative, reminding her of her childhood.   “We have forgotten what childhood should be.   And if we remember back to before testing—which would be back in the ’60s, ’70s, early ’80s—if we remember back to that, children were allowed to be children.”

“Test scores don’t tell you everything you need to know about a child,” she said. “I hope people can understand that. In this age of accountability and testing, I think we’ve forgotten that we’re dealing with these little kids with their little hearts, and they need to be nurtured too.” – Principal Elizabeth Miller, Chavez Elementary School.

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Hi there!

I’m Becky, a former elementary school teacher turned certified child development therapist and blogger. I work at home with my husband and together we are raising (and partially homeschooling) our four children in the Carolinas. I love diet coke, ice cream, and spending time with my family.

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