While the benefits of physical activity among children has given rise to little, if any, debate, the benefits of midday playtime has. On one end of the spectrum some say that recess poses safety hazards and cuts into much needed instructional time; on the other end of the spectrum, proponents say recess may actually help children perform better in the classroom.
A new study lends evidence to the arguments of the latter camp.
According to researchers from Mathematica Policy Research and the John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Their Communities at Stanford University, teachers reported less bullying, better recess behavior and more readiness for classes among students who engaged in recess.
To evaluate the benefits of break time, the study focused in on a program called Playworks, a nonprofit which uses recess to address social and emotional development issues large Black and Latino student populations. Researchers collected onsite observations and feedback from 1,982 fourth and fifth grade students, 247 teachers, and 25 principals, as well as the 14 Playworks coaches who participated in the study.
Teachers using Playworks say it took 27 percent less time to transition from recess to classroom learning than it did at a group of similar schools without the program. Similarly, 28 percent of teachers reported that students were now more likely to arrive at class ready to learn because fewer conflicts carried over from recess and 14 percent of teachers reported improvements in teamwork and inclusiveness in class.
"These new findings, taken together with existing data, tell us that kids better relate with one another, resolve conflicts constructively, get plenty of physical activity on the playground, and return to class more focused and ready to learn,” said Nancy Barrand, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s special advisor for program development.
According to previous reports, low-income, urban populations like the Washington DC- and Baltimore-area schools included in this study are less likely to implement daily recess, focusing instead on standardized test results (a pitfall of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, some say).
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that the study found improved academic performance. The study instead focused on social outcomes of the program. The program's effects were not studied in relation to particular benefits based on the students' ethnic backgrounds, as was previously implied.
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