Keep recess in school, says AAP

January 3, 2013

Cutting recess to increase time for academics makes children less productive in the classroom and diminishes their social and emotional development. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises in a new policy statement that school recess is a vital complement to academics for developing the whole child.

 

Cutting recess to increase time for academics makes children less productive in the classroom and diminishes their social and emotional development. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises in a new policy statement that school recess is a vital complement to academics for developing the whole child.

Research has shown that children and adolescents need a period of interruption after intensive cognitive tasks, such as classroom instruction, to optimize mental processing. Recess for younger students and periodic classroom breaks for adolescents serve the same purpose as coffee breaks for adults. These interruptions diminish stress and refocus students’ attention.

In addition, physical activity at recess, whether free play or structured, enables children to practice movement and motor skills that contribute to the AAP’s recommended 60 minutes of activity per day to lower the risk of obesity. Recess should never replace physical education class but supplement it.

Duration of recess varies by age, grade, and school district, but timing is important. Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the US Department of Agriculture recommend scheduling recess before lunch because when more time is taken for lunch, children’s mealtime behavior is better and less food is wasted, and the improved behavior extends into the classroom in the afternoon.

Recess should never be withheld as punishment, says AAP, because the free time promotes physical activity that is crucial for a healthy lifestyle, and unstructured play encourages children’s creativity and social skills that are essential to normal growth and development.