Cutting Recess May Be Bad for Kids' Health

Sept. 21, 2004 -- Wekiva Elementary School Principal Michael Pfeiffer claims there just is not enough time in the day to teach the essentials. So the Longwood, Fla., school has cut back on recess.

Starting this school year, third- fourth- and fifth-graders will have recess about every other day, and only on days when they don't have physical education.

Pfeiffer says educators are under pressure nationwide to improve test scores and to help students succeed academically.

"We must have minimal 90 minutes of direct-instruction reading with our teachers a day, plus at least 60 minutes of math. Then you throw in the social studies, science curriculum, throw in any character education, throw in lunch, throw in picture day, you throw in any other activities that are going on at school, and there's an awful lot going on here," Pfeiffer said.

Some parents agree. "There's not enough inherent benefit in recess that it should take precedence over another topic or subject in school," said Jim Palmer, the father of a second-grader.

That does not sit well with Kevin Johnson, a fourth-grader at Wekiva. He said recess is a time when "you get to talk and everything and have fun, and you're not cooped up in a classroom."

Recess Helps Social Development, Academics

Even though an estimated 40 percent of schools nationwide have reduced or considered reducing recess, some experts and parents think it's a bad idea. They believe recess helps children develop socially, and that the break even helps with their academics.

"They come back refreshed," said Kevin's mother, Janice Johnson. "They are more willing to listen to the teacher, they will be more willing to learn what's going on, [and] they've got that mental relaxation in there, so they're ready to learn new stuff."

Olga Jarrett, a professor of early childhood education at Georgia State University, agrees that kids benefit from taking a break. "I believe that there is a mistaken assumption that children do better if they spend all their time on academic things," she said. "And I believe that that is not the case, that children do better if they do have breaks in the day. Otherwise, they can't concentrate all day.

"The bottom line is that [children] tend to get fidgety and off-task in the classroom if they have not had recess," Jarrett said.

Perhaps, more importantly, some health experts say recess can help forge a lifelong habit of physical activity — something important, given the prevalence of childhood obesity. It's estimated that 30 percent of U.S. children are overweight or at risk of being so.

Critics of banning recess say some schools are starting to get the point. So far, three states — Connecticut, Virginia and Michigan — have mandated the existence of recess in elementary schools. It is also coming back in some schools that had previously banned it. Wekiva Elementary still has recess for its youngest students.

Some parents, like Johnson, argue that it is important to let kids be kids.

"We ask so much of our kids, there's so much pressure on them to perform," she said. "I really think they need that recess to decompress."

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