January 18th, 2021

Learning and recess

By Submitted Article on January 29, 2020.

As schools and school systems look at finding ways to spend more time on academic pursuits with their students, the time found is often at the expense of recess or breaks that students look forward to, or need. This approach may be counter intuitive and, in fact, may create more issues than benefits.

Researchers highlight the benefits of recess in the development of the whole child and the impact these short breaks have on student learning. Similarly to adults using coffee time as a means to break up their workday, young people also need a break from the sustained and concentrated academic challenges that occur in the classroom. While many will think of the natural benefit of physical play, there are other benefits to these all-important breaks.

In an unstructured environment children benefit cognitively through interactive experiences that allow them to imagine and invent. Several studies also highlight that recess (or breaks, for older students) make students more attentive and productive in the classroom. Whether recess occurs inside or outside, the impact on learning is noticeable. Studies have indicated a benefit to students’ memory, attention and concentration as well as an improvement of on-task behaviour and a reduction in disruptive behaviours.

Another benefit of recess is in regard to the development of social and emotional skills. By allowing students time to engage in peer interactions, they can develop valuable communication skills such as negotiation, co-operation, sharing, coping and problem-solving skills, all of which will be utilized throughout their lives. Recess can also provide students time to de-stress. For some, this stress release might happen through being very active and playing games; for others, it may take the shape of time to read, talk to friends or relax without expectations. Without doubt, recess plays a vital role in the physical, mental and emotional health of students.

It is for that reason the time we set aside for recess needs to be protected. Moving to monitored, unstructured play allows students to enjoy these breaks in a safe environment but also provides them with some independence. Not every student wishes to play soccer or some other team sport. Some may want to play small group games, made-up games or just find time to themselves. Either way, the time provided will be of benefit to them.

Recess and learning go hand-in-hand. Past generations have acknowledged the importance of “getting outside and enjoying the fresh air” to help one wake up, concentrate or to improve their mood. I suspect most of us have heard this viewpoint on numerous occasions from parents or grandparents. Today’s young people are no different in their needs. They require the time and opportunity to fulfil those needs and thus recess/breaks need to be protected and encouraged as part of the school day.

Feb. 5 is Global School Play Day. This day is a grassroots effort created by educators around the world in support of unstructured playtime for students. For more information or to sign up, go to https://www.globalschoolplayday.com/.

Dave Driscoll is Superintendent of Schools for Palliser Regional Schools.

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