New Report Links Recess to Learning

Recess is often brushed off as just playing tag and kickball on the playground, but a Gallup poll released Feb. 4 shows it can be valuable to learning.

The poll, conducted in October 2009, took an online survey of almost 2,000 elementary school principals, asking questions about how they see recess affecting students’ ability to perform both in and outside of the classroom. More than 80 percent of those surveyed said recess has a positive impact on academic achievement.

Most people know the value of a short respite in their workday—a quick coffee break or walk to the water cooler can help a person re-focus before starting the next big task. The logic behind recess is much the same.  However, with pressure on schools to perform well on standardized tests and meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) requirements, many schools are cutting back on recess to give students more time in the classroom.

“Recess remains a precious commodity at most schools. Despite its links to achievement, many schools cut recess to make room for testing requirements,” the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the main sponsor of the survey, wrote in their results summary. Half of principals say students get between 16 and 30 minutes of recess each day, and one in 5 say that AYP requirements have resulted in a shorter recess period.

In addition to the learning boost that recess can give students, it also provides a medium for social growth. Over 95 percent of principals agree that recess has a positive impact on social development and general well-being.

“Principals face many challenges in structuring the school day to include regular recess,” says Brenda Z. Greene, NSBA’s director of School Health Programs. “But the evidence is clear that there are significant benefits to giving children time for unstructured play, including the opportunity to develop social skills while being physically active. A school or district school health advisory team representing staff, parents and students could be a useful problem-solving mechanism.”

In another recent report, NSBA’s Center for Public Education found that recess programs are still in place, but the time allotted to classes is shrinking.

In the Gallup survey, which was also sponsored by the National Association of Elementary School Principals and non-profit recess advocate Playworks, the majority of principals said they use this free time as a bargaining chip to influence students’ behavior. Seventy-seven percent say they often take recess away from students as a punishment for bad behavior, even though this study points to a correlation between recess and good classroom behavior. A February 2009 study by the American Academy of Pediatrics also showed that having 15 or more minutes of recess every day was associated with higher teacher ratings of classroom behavior.

Many principals also mentioned that play time can bring problems of its own. Even though recess may improve students’ conduct in the classroom, the vast majority of behavioral problems during the school day happen outside of class, most often during lunch or recess.

To improve the quality of time spent on the playground, most principals said the thing they need most, more than new equipment or playground management training, is an increased number of staff members to monitor the kids while they are at play. Unfortunately, “because of today’s economic realities, many schools may not have the luxury of adding additional staff to recess. That makes it all the more important to ensure that adults on the playground at recess have the training necessary to manage it effectively. With limited and cost-effective training, schools could use existing staff to manage recess with even better results,” the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation said.

Tricia Smith, Intern, NSBA Publications Department

Erin Walsh|February 5th, 2010|Categories: Curriculum, Obesity, School Board News, Wellness|

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