Recess: A Reward or Necessity?

Have you ever had one of those days? You know the ones where your class is antsy and restless.  More of your time is spent saying, “Please be quiet.” In fact, you’ve said it so many times that you’re about to lose your cool.

You need a break…They definitely need a break. You sigh with the thought of the long list of material that needs to be covered before lunch or the end of the day!

This was a common struggle in my classroom the first few years I taught until one day it finally hit me. Those 15 minutes I take my class to run around the playground or on a “field trip” around the campus or even GoNoodling made my class so much more productive for the remaining part of the day. 

Of course, I know this from experience, but we are all about evidence-based practices…so what does the literature say?

Recess 2 recess
Recess: A Reward or Necessity? 2

Recess in Finland: What can we learn?

Schools in Finland automatically schedule a 15-minute break every hour.  In an article in The Atlantic, American teacher Mike Walker shares his experiences teaching in Finland. 

At first, he was appalled that so much time was taken away from instruction for these frequent breaks.  He revised his schedule so that he would teach for 90 minutes, then give the children a 30-minute break. 

It only took three days before a distraught 5th grader led him to see the error of his plan. In Finland, students are given 15 minutes of unstructured time outside rain or shine.  They come back to the classroom energized and ready to work again.

Mr. Walker came to realize that even if students couldn’t get outside, a few minutes of unstructured time every hour helped students stay focused and alert during instructional time.

How principals view recess

According to the article, Recess Makes Kids Smarter by Caralee Adams in the Scholastic Instructor Magazine, many principals admit to taking away recess as a punishment for poor behavior. 

Early in my career, I was absolutely guilty of using recess time as a carrot with some students losing their recess day after day.

As I grew as a professional, I began to realize I was torturing myself just as much as the child! The students who most often lose their recess time are the students who need it the most. 

Telling a student to sit still and get their work done a hundred times a day, and then taking away the few minutes they have permission to NOT sit still is counter-intuitive.  I’ve come to realize that recess time should be guarded as sacred

Finding the balance

When it is necessary to use it as a consequence, a little goes a long way. For a student, watching their friends run and play for even 1-3 minutes feels like an eternity!

Recess is not just about getting the wiggles out.

Students develop social skills as they figure out ways to solve problems and compromise with friends. Free play is a time when students from different social groups can come together. They plan and carry out an imaginative adventure or game. 

Have you ever really watched the games going on at the playground?

At my school, there are kids pretending to be an army while a group plays school in the shade of large trees. A crowd plays soccer on a large field, while another group jumps rope together on the concrete play space.

Smiles abound, and (sometimes with our help) kids are learning to solve problems and cooperate. Tell me those aren’t valuable skills that can transfer back to the classroom.

After reading so many articles, it got me wondering what your school does for recess? Do students get recess taken away for behavior issues…or is there even a recess at all?

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