MAKING THE GRADE: Why recess? The important role of play in education

By Daily News • Last Updated 11:08 am on Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Making the Grade | Janet Ralph

When school is in session, I love to drive by playgrounds during recess time and watch the children at play. Sadly, today the pressure to push academics has caused critics to argue that this time could be better used in the classroom. Unfortunately, there are many schools throughout the country that are doing away with this activity in an effort to increase instructional time and test scores.

This seems unwise to me in a time when our children are spending more and more time indoors in front of the television or using other devices. So, I did a little research to see what experts are saying about this trend.

First, I learned that this is not a new debate. In 1884, W.T. Harris, philosopher and educator, delivered a paper before the Department of Superintendents of the National Education Association debating the retention or abolition of recess. He argued the “chief use of recess is the complete suspension of the tension of the will power and the surrender to caprice for a brief interval.”

It seems for many years recess has been in danger of being eliminated. Still “having recess is much, much better than not having recess,” says Anthony Pellegrini, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Minnesota.

A group called Playworks has published “The Five Secret Benefits of Recess.”

1. Play breaks are a necessary part of life. For adults and kids.

2. Classroom performance improves after recess. According to LiveScience, children perform better if they have had the opportunity to blow off a little steam on the playground.

3. Recess fosters social development.

4. Play is a great soldier in the fight against childhood obesity.

5. Play is good for brain development.

Sandra Waite-Stupiansky and Marcia Findlay have written an article entitled “The Fourth R and its Link to Learning” using pertinent research over the last 20 years on the importance of recess and free play. They argue that “Recess is the Fourth R because it helps children learn the other three.”

Most adults would not think of not giving their brains a rest.

In an article on the history of recess, I found this quote:

“For many adults, recess has been replaced with the coffee break, but many companies have also found that adding a gym or playing field at the office and providing and encouraging participation in sports and games is good for employee health, morale and productivity. Maybe we all still need recess.”

Janet Ralph is president of the Greenville Public Schools Board of Education.

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