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Need recesses in school. And no, recess is not a waste of time


Everyone loves recess. And everyone hates it when teachers cut short the recess time to accommodate their lessons? After all, how can one concentrate on these classes when stomach is craving for food while mind needs some fresh air? Does one even listen to what the teacher is teaching in this extra time? In a rush to finish the syllabus, expect teacher to be least creative, and students least attentive. But still, time and again, schools compromise on recess to help subject teachers finish their course content. The logic appears to be simple – recess is about eating lunch which is a five minute job. The rest of the period is a waste of time. But if recess is actually so unimportant, why is it that experts consider it one of the most important ingredients of overall student learning experience? Is recess only about eating lunch or does it benefit students in ways which studies can never do?  Should schools eat into the recess timing or encourage multi-recess culture as experts advocate?

Why recess is important?

Recess is the only time students get to be their own masters. It helps them unwind, rest and recharge. Several researches have suggested that children learn more efficiently when information is spaced out, that is, information is distributed over time. National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) too, in its 10-year survey on school education, concluded that more the recess periods, greater is the willingness among students to study.

In Finland, a country whose education system is praised all over the world, multi-recesses is a common practice. Students are provided regular breaks in between their classes, during which they are free to do whatever they like. The result – students return with a fresh mind and are more motivated and attentive in classes, thus enabling them to learn and score better.

Advantages of recess 

1) Improves academic performance

Does increasing the number of recesses enhance student achievement? Several studies have suggested that physical activity supports learning, that is, students perform better on literacy tasks after the recess. As per American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), “minimising or eliminating recess can negatively affect academic achievement, as growing evidence links recess to improved physical health, social skills and cognitive development.” In fact, recess time is said to be one of the major reasons why Finland’s students regularly score highest in worldwide education assessments.

2) Improves attention

Anthony Pellegrini, author of Recess: Its Role in Education and Development, together with his colleagues has conducted a series of experiments to find out the relationship between recess timing and attentiveness in classroom. In every experiment, the team is said to have found students more attentive post a break than before a break, irrespective of the fact whether the breaks (unstructured recess) were held outdoors or indoors. Also, in cases where there was a delay in break, students were observed to be less attentive.

3) Learn social skills

Advocates of recess say that it provides children cognitive, physical, creative, emotional and social benefits. Since children are free to play whatever they like, they learn to discuss, compromise, share, develop rules and respect them, plan strategies and resolve conflicts to keep the game going. Also, the fact that they make their own choices helps in building their confidence.

4) Brain needs a break

Let’s admit it, we all love breaks. They are important for keeping us mentally alert. Researchers too back this theory for the brain cannot focus on one thing for long periods of time. Attention, they say, is cyclical, involving 90-110 minute rhythmical patterns throughout the day. Also, brain needs break for information to process, to recycle chemicals crucial for long-term memory formation.

5) Children behave better and become healthier

Studies suggest that kids with regular recess behave better, are physically healthier and exhibit stronger social and emotional development. Although, studies have shown that children become less fidgety and more on-task if they have recess, it is the hyperactive children who benefit the most from regular breaks. So the next time you want to discipline kids, just give them a break.

6) Break is healthy even for teachers

Teaching can be quite a stressful activity. It is unlike other professions as it involves incessant interaction simultaneously with a large number of students.

Hence, both teachers and students need regular breaks to mentally decompress and recharge themselves.

Common Myths about Recess

1. Recess is a waste of time

Experts believe kids eat better when they get recess. Also, the activities that children engage in during recess are essential for development and well-being of children (check point 3 in advantages). It keeps children active and healthy which are as important as the bookish knowledge.

2. Physical Education (PE) and recess are one and the same

Recess involves choices; students themselves choose their games, players and decide the rules of the game. In short, they choose how they want to spend the time. In PE however, they are told what to do and how to do it. While in former, they are the rulers, the latter makes them followers (instructions of teachers).

3. Recess is same as lunch break 

They are two different things as the names suggest. While lunch time involves focus on food, recess includes play/games. In fact, several researches over the time have suggested that having recess before lunch increases food consumption, mainly healthy, and decreases food wastage. The reason – when recess is held post lunch, children are in a hurry to finish food so that they can play, hence they avoid fruits and vegetables. But when recess is held before lunch, there is no hurry and hungry students opt for healthier options.

Still not convinced that doing away with recess for studies is an unhealthy option? Well, in that case, imagine the following two schools:

School 1:

Over here, students get break after an hour of serious studies.

School 2:

Over here, students are required to attend back-to-back classes for hours without any break in between.

Where are you likely to see happy, enthusiastic and attentive students? And where are you going to find mentally and physically drained out students trying to keep their eyes and ears open during their classes? Not tough to imagine, isn’t it? Aren’t then students in School 1 likely to understand lessons better than students in School 2?

Which school would you want your children to be in? Think about it.

With inputs from US Play CoalitionSlateThe AtlanticCornell Food and Brand Lab

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