All Work & No Play...

Study Finds That Limiting Recess Time May Cause Behavioral Problems In The Class

SPECIAL REPORT—Call it a bad case of cabin fever or a need to run off some energy, but researchers have determined that daily school behavior in the classroom improves when children are given the opportunity to have recess.


The large study, conducted at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, looked at the recess effect upon third-graders and found that the data showed that a daily break of 15 minutes or more in the school day likely played a role in improved learning, social development and health in elementary school children.


The children, ages 8 to 9, were divided into two categories: those with no or minimal recess (less than 15 minutes a day) and those with more than 15 minutes a day. Both groups were formed with equal amounts of boys and girls. Their teachers using a questionnaire assessed the children’s classroom behavior.


The American Academy of Pediatrics states that free, unstructured play is essential for keeping children healthy, and for helping them reach important social, emotional and cognitive developmental milestones. Unstructured playtime also helps kids learn to manage stress and become more resilient.


In recent years, however, pressure to see children meet or exceed curriculum performance goals may be squeezing recess time out of the school schedule. In studies, a trend was noted that many schools were giving children less and less unstructured playtime.


According to a 2005 survey that was conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, between 83 to 88 percent of children in public elementary school were given recess of some sort. However, the frequency and duration of daily recess periods are in decline across the nation. Since the 1970s, children have lost about 12 hours per week in free time. That equates to about a 25-percent decrease in play and a 50-percent decrease in unstructured outdoor activities, according to another study.


The latest study that positively promotes recess time attempts to put that free time in perspective for the sake of the children’s development. Dr. Romina Mariel Barros, MD suggests that a daily break of 15 minutes or more may play a significant role in improved learning, social development and health in elementary school children. Dr. Barros is assistant clinical professor of pedatrics at Einstein.


“When we restructure our education system, we have to think about the important role of recess in childhood development,” Dr. Barros says. “Even if schools don’t have the space, they could give students 15 minutes of indoor activity. All that they need is some unstructured time.”