I'm pleased to share with you a guest blog written by an outstanding Wheelock graduate student Jennifer Nguyen, who will be graduating this month with a Master's degree in Child Life and Family Centered Care. Jennifer is the winner of a student policy blog contest sponsored by the Office of Government & External Affairs and Strategic Partnerships for students to share their thoughts on today's hot topics in policy and politics.
Jennifer is a strong advocate for the need for recess and for the value of play in children's lives. In addition to her winning blog, she worked on several online petitions with parents whose children's schools were eliminating recess. She also wrote letters to the Boston Public School District, the CEO of Playworks, and U.S. Secretary of Education supporting their contributions for saving recess in schools.
The school bell rings, indicating it's time for recess, but the playground remains empty. There are no children climbing the structure, filling the monkey bars, or playing games in the adjacent field. Instead of the laughter and chatter that typically fill the sounds of recess, there is an eerie silence and stillness to the abandoned playground. Where are our kids? They are sitting inside the classroom, trying to learn and yet unable to fully concentrate because they are missing a critical experience needed for school success: recess.
Children across the nation are seeing significant reductions in recess at school - a fundamental aspect of education that I believe all primary schools should maintain for their students. Recess, the only opportunity for unstructured physical activity and play in a school day, has experienced a range of cutbacks throughout the last decade. In 2008, 20% of school districts reported decreasing recess to increase instructional time for the language arts and mathematics. Cuts to recess currently average 50 minutes a week and continue to increase as some schools have eliminated recess from their schedules entirely.
Recess has experienced these reductions largely due to education reform, most notably from the high expectations and standards set by No Child Left Behind. Signed in 2001, this legislation enforced sweeping changes in our public school classrooms, leading to the creation of a standards-based system where teachers are increasingly pressured to "follow prescribed curricula and to sideline play in preparation for standardized testing" (Olfman, 2005, p. 206). As a result, children are spending less time on the playground and more time in the classroom learning formal academic subjects at earlier ages.
Contrary to these changes taking place in schools, there is no research to indicate that test scores improve when children stay in the classroom for longer periods of time. There is a wealth of information, however, that demonstrate the benefits of play to academic learning. Far too often school and play are presented as contrasting concepts when they in fact work together to support optimal child development and academic success. With new research promoting the specific role of recess in schools, there may now be enough evidence to eliminate the notion of recess as an inefficient use of time.
According to a policy statement issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2013, at least 20 minutes of recess a day is not only important to school success but a "crucial and necessary component of a child's development" (Murray & Ramstetter, 2013, p. 183). During recess, children learn and practice a variety of skills that contribute to their success in the classroom. Among the skills that transcend from the playground to the classroom include cognitive, social, emotional, and physical growth that help to support healthier students and a positive learning environment. Children are more prepared to concentrate in class as well as collaborate and problem-solve with their peers when provided daily breaks of unstructured free play.
Considered by many kids to be the highlight of their day, recess is a staple of the school experience that should be respected and protected by policymakers and school administrators alike. Although it is not as obvious to the kids, recess contributes to their development and learning in ways that a classroom cannot do alone. By saving recess, there will be more children prepared to learn and succeed in class.