No matter what you think of the George W. Bush-era No Child Left Behind legislation, there are some results that can’t be disputed. One of them is that schools were under a huge amount of pressure to keep their scores high. I have nothing against high scores, but sometimes the costs outweigh the benefits. A lot of schools, for example, decided that they didn’t have enough time during the school day to teach their kids what they needed to know. So they did something that might have seemed logical at the time, but was a complete disaster: They cut out recess. We’re not talking high-schools here, or even middle schools. There are tons of kindergartens where the kids don’t get recess.
Let me make a quick stop here to get some definitions in order. Recess and PE are not the same thing. PE is generally organized, with rules and specific boundaries. Recess is unstructured play, heavy on imagination, light on rules.
Kids–and adults–need downtime and learn better when we have breaks. There’s a lot of research on this, which I’d be happy to share with anyone who’s interested, but the short version is that kids who have frequent breaks do better in school, concentrate better, have fewer behavior problems, are less fidgety and distracted. They also do better socially and are better problem solvers. The problem is–and this is where the PE vs recess issue is biggest–that if we keep giving our kids equipment to play with, rules to play by, teams to play on, and a neatly boundaried place to do it all, we’re destroying their ability to think for themselves.
If your kids’ school has abolished–or cut back on–recess, you can’t let them get away with it. There are some great resources at both of these sites: