The American Academy of Pediatrics offers compelling and persuasive points in support of recess for schoolchildren. This has become an issue with the Manatee County school district as parents lobby the school board and administration for time in unstructured play.
In a study titled "The Crucial Role of Recess in School," originally published online in December 2012, the academy disdained the growing trend of schools to mandate students spend more time on academic subjects and less time on recess play.
One of the policy statement's concludes: The academy "believes that recess is a crucial and necessary component of a child's development and, as such, it should not be withheld for punitive or academic reasons."
Generations of Americans grew up with playground experiences that cannot be measured in high-stakes standardized testing. But the results of those tests reflect a child's ability to handle stress and master the lessons thanks to recess. Four square, hopscotch and other play freshen the mind.
The Academy of Pediatrics refers to studies that demonstrate recess, whether indoors or outside, "made children more attentive and more productive in the classroom" -- even when those youngsters spent most of recess socializing and not playing. Classroom behavior improves, too, as teachers have reported.
Recess differs from physical education in allowing children an unstructured social environment that frees the mind from cognitive tasks and reduces stress.
"Recess promotes social and emotional learning and development for children by offering them a time to engage in peer interactions in which they practice and role play essential social skills," the 2012 academy report states. Those students learn communication skills ranging from negotiation, cooperation and sharing to problem solving, coping abilities and perseverance. "These skills become fundamental, lifelong personal tools," the academy notes.
Those tools are equally important to academic achievement in order to build a whole child and not just a successful test-taker. On Tuesday evening during a marathon school board meeting, parents argued that there is a major difference between physical education and recess.
Numerous studies support that conclusion. As the academy states, "Recess is a complement to, but not a replacement for, physical education, Physical education is an academic discipline."
The state-mandated 150-minutes per week of physical education cannot be an excuse to dismiss recess as an unnecessary expenditure of time away from academics.
Diana Greene, the district's deputy superintendent of instruction, told the Herald that schools may have fewer minutes of recess because of more physical education time. Plus, more recess would cut into time for in science and social studies, the the first two choices for capturing more recess time.
The benefits of recess, though, continue to be documented. "Ironically, minimizing or eliminating recess may be counterproductive to academic achievement, as a growing body of evidence suggests that recess promotes not only physical health and social development but also cognitive performance," the academy policy states.
The Manatee County school district does not have a formal recess policy, but the board and administration should take a deep look at establishing one. The positives warrant more public discussion.