The Psychological Advantage Presented by Recess

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The Psychological Advantage Presented by Recess
Less is the new more. Budgets are shrinking, school lunch portions are getting smaller, and now recess appears to be going the way of the dinosaurs. While it might seem better to give more time and attention to children in the classroom, is eliminating or shortening recess truly the best solution? Probably not, according to the nation’s leading pediatricians and psychologists.
In his research at the University of Georgia, Phillip Tomporowski, PhD has linked the benefits of recess with higher academic performance. Common perception today is that recess is a time where children run around and play on the playground, leading to more disruption and boisterousness in the classroom. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth, as exercise science shows that children score higher on standardized tests after they’ve had recess. Furthermore, considering the obesity epidemic striking the nation’s youth, is eliminating and shortening recess truly the best move?
The psychological benefits of including recess in the academic process include:
  • Enhanced cognitive performance. The fact remains that children have shorter attention spans than ever before, which has been accelerated by the increase of technology in today’s world. Breaks inserted between segments of intense intellectual work allow children to subconsciously regroup their thoughts and prepare for the next lesson. The studies proving this correlation have been ongoing for over a century. Since these benefits are available for children and adults alike, teachers are beneficiaries of recess as well.
  • Increased emotional intelligence. One of the leading contributors to improved emotional intelligence is social interaction. Because of its nature, recess is one of the primary opportunities for children to develop those critical social skills through games and relaxed conversation. So why do emotional intelligence and social skills matter? Well, as important as academics are, there’s an ever-increasing body of research that shows that emotional intelligence is playing a larger factor in workplace success.
  • Unintended learning. From games to social interaction, children learn unintentional lessons on the playground. For instance, children will differ in their willingness to reason, initiate discussion, and take the lead on the playground than in the classroom. Social and motor skills, reasoning, and navigation are all developed during recess.
So how long should recess last for children to reap the benefits? While psychologists and pediatricians agree that recess provides many benefits, this is one area where the answers disagree. Some claim that benefits can be achieved in as little as 20 minute breaks per day, but other professionals suggest that 40 minutes of playtime is optimal.
Regardless, it’s clear that as everything in today’s economy and culture is getting smaller and smaller, recess is one thing that should remain the same. To learn more about the psychology of recess, be sure to read this newsletter from Anthony Pellegrini of the University of Minnesota and Peter Blatchford of the University of London, and this study from Medill of Chicago.