When I was a kid and people would ask me and my friends what our favorite school subject was, we'd always shout "Recess!" We were trying to be funny, but a new study suggests there's more to recess than fun and games.
Researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine looked at data on the classroom behavior of roughly 11,000 third graders, some from schools with recess and some from schools without it. Their results, published in the February issue of the journal Pediatrics, show that students who received more than 15 minutes of free play a day were better behaved than those who had no recess period. The researchers argue that these findings, along with similar findings from other studies, "support the importance of recess for student attentiveness in the classroom."
The researchers also made another, less encouraging finding: 30 percent of schools did not schedule any recess; what's more, "children who did not receive scheduled recess at school were more likely to be from lower income families and from black and Hispanic ethnic groups." The researchers point to No Child Left Behind as a possible reason why so many schools have cut recess. NCLB has linked schools' funding to their students' performance on standardized tests. In order to spend more time preparing for these tests, schools are devoting less time to free, unstructured play. But this study suggests that cutting recess may actually have the opposite of its intended effect.
This is the latest in a wave of research validating the social, psychological, and even academic benefits of play; much of this research was featured in Greater Good's Spring 2008 issue, featuring a series of essays on play. All this suggests what me and my friends already knew as children: that recess doesn't only provide an important physical outlet. It makes it easier for kids to go about the work of being kids.