Pediatricians Stress the Importance of Recess at School

Increasing pressure to find more time for academics has led to an reduction in recess time across the country. In its first policy statement on the issue of recess, the American Academy of Pediatrics said that recess is good for a child's body and mind, and withholding these regular breaks in the day may be counterproductive to healthy child development.

Robert Murray, a co-author of the statement and professor of pediatrics at Ohio State University, says

"We have a couple of decades of research now that indicates that recess plays a huge role in a child's life, and not just because it's fun."

Murray says that safe and well supervised recess offers children "cognitive, physical, emotional and social benefits", including improved classroom behavior, better attention span, and an important opportunity for free, unstructured play, creativity and interaction with other children.

THe AAP's statement goes on to say that recess should never be withheld as a punishment or for academic reasons because it serves a "crucial role" in a child's development and social interaction.

73 percent of U.S. elementary schools provide regular recess for all grades. Catherine Ramstetter, a health educator at The Christ College of Nursing and Health Sciences in Cincinnati and co-author of the AAP statement, says that it is difficult to quantify on the national level just how many schools are "taking it away as a policy."

The authors cite studies that note up to 40 percent of U.S. school districts have reduced or eliminated recess to allow more time for core academics. One in four elementary schools no longer provides access to recess to all grades.

Recess has gained attention with the increased attention to the obesity crisis among children, and is often seen as a much needed physical activity. The AAP statement says that recess, however, should be viewed "as a complement to physical education -- not a substitute."

Ramstetter adds:

"[Recess] might allow time to practice something learned in physical education class, but it might also be a time for free play, creative play, imagination, or just sitting around and talking with friends."

Murray adds that it is important to view recess as "a child's personal time to decompress from rigorous academic activity and to prepare for the next rigorous activity." He says "We need to protect recess time."