A group of sociologists traveled from California to an East Coast school a number of years ago to observe the kindergarten students’ recess for their research. The kids never appeared as the crew waited on the playground. The lunch staff had kept the pupils back as a consequence of misconduct, the principal explained when they later questioned him about it.
A sociologist who was on the research team and is now a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Rebecca London said, “That just tells you something about the culture of how easy it is to dispense of this really essential time for kids at a whim.” There is absolutely no proof that denying students recess leads to any desired behavior. That is not a practice supported by evidence. There is absolutely no study to back that up.
Recess is crucial to children’s learning and development, according to research (including London’s). The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention both suggest that children have access to it. According to experts, children shouldn’t miss out on recess since it gives them the chance to play with their peers without adult supervision, which is crucial for growth.
Nonetheless, only at least 10 states1 mandate that schools offer daily recess. California and Washington are debating proposals this year that, if they are approved, would make a recess in schools a requirement. Recess is an essential component of the academic day, not a break from it, as experts like London and others want legislators and teachers to understand.
According to London and other scholars I spoke with, no federal agency systematically monitors recess time at schools. However, certain surveys by states, organizations like the CDC, or advocacy groups reveal a decline in recess and suggest that pupils might not be receiving the full amount of break time advised by experts. According to other research, low-income students and students of color who attend under-resourced schools typically have limited access to recess, which is influenced by the same racial and socioeconomic factors that affect much of American life.
Less information is available regarding the frequency with which recess is taken away as a form of punishment, but it is well known that Black, Latino, and Native American students—particularly boys—are more likely to receive corporal punishment at school than other students. As a result, they may be disproportionately more likely to have their recess taken away. London believes the practice of denying students access to recess is widespread and frequent based on her experience at that East Coast school.
The majority of people view recess as optional. It is frequently seen by school authorities as a privilege for children rather than as a part of formal education. The school districts in Atlanta, Chicago, and other cities completely removed recess in the late 1990s and early 2000s in favor of additional class time that they anticipated would improve test scores. Studies conducted in the 2000s and 2010s revealed that recess periods were being reduced. According to Julie McCleery, director of research-practice collaborations at the Center for Leadership in Sports at the University of Washington, the quantity pupils receive might differ from school to school and from classroom to classroom, making it challenging to collect data on it.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, which argues that recess is an essential part of the school day, released its updated guidelines in 2013 as a result of this trend. They divided P.E. classes from other physical activities like recess, which would have adult supervision but no adult direction. They claim that recess allows students the freedom to solve difficulties, deal with emotional issues with their classmates, and learn how to engage with people on their own. According to other studies, children in the classroom benefit from unstructured downtime because it improves their memory and cognition. According to the AAP recommendations, recess “should not be delayed for punitive or academic reasons,” in light of data like these.
After observing the fall of recess, educators, parents, and advocacy groups started to promote its reintroduction across the nation, but many states did not make it a top priority. William V. Massey, an Oregon State University professor who researches the effects of recess, said there is a “big gap” between what we know children need and what is genuinely helpful for learning and how much time we give for it.
Recess protection legislation typically fails to pass via state legislatures or is watered down. This month, the state House approved the legislation mandating a break in Washington. However, McCleery claims that instead of the 45 minutes that the original bill called for, it now only requires 30 minutes. According to McCleery, safeguards that would have prevented recess from being taken away as punishment were also reduced. As a result, the practice is no longer encouraged. She stated that teachers wanted to have that option in their arsenal of methods for controlling conduct. Teachers would not be permitted to skip recess under the California measure as it is now written.
The researchers informed me that up until recently, the argument against mandating recess was that schools had too many other responsibilities, resources that were already stretched thin, and not enough time in the school day. Advocates are optimistic that this has improved since the COVID-19 outbreak since students’ social and emotional needs are now more important than ever. California state senator Josh Newman said he hoped this period would allow for a chance to reprioritize what students in schools need. Newman authored the state’s recess measure. Making certain that we address all of the components of the children’s social-emotional learning is one of those [priorities], he said. Although being a somewhat archaic word, “recess” is crucial to it.