Out of Time Recess is shrinking, but at what cost?

by Amanda Jean Harris

If we want kids to succeed in school, giving them more time at their desks focused on academic work is not the answer. Recess is shrinking. Free time is abysmal for many children. Read on to learn the reason recess matters and how parents can make the most of their children’s time.

“It effects all kids,” says psychologist Amy Cavanaugh of cutting back recess time for children. “There’s only so much time children can stay seated and focused, and we are exceeding those abilities. It’s not just a reduction in recess.”

Cavanaugh says the overall reduction in PE time and loss of unstructured time throughout the day (at school or after the bell rings) impacts children. While many of us grew up playing until the street lights came on with neighbors (unsupervised), many youth are doing the opposite.

“Kids don’t get to use their own creativity and imagination,” Cavanaugh says. “They don’t learn to entertain themselves, and you’ll hear more complaints of being bored. They are constantly given something to do or provided something to do … play is important for learning because they’re trying out something new and figuring out things on their own. They are developing their own critical thinking skills.”

Something as simple as playing with other children, talking at lunch (which is forbidden at some schools) and working things out on the playground matter in the long run as children develop.

“And then we wonder why kids don’t learn to make eye contact or work out how to resolve conflict,” she says.

While many kindergarten preparedness lists focus on academics, Cavanaugh points to focusing on the foundations that must be in place for children to even begin to learn before we look at academics.

“Can they wait their turn? Can they get along with peers and get along with adults, and can they regulate their emotions?” she asks. “If they can’t do those things then they can’t learn to read and write and do math.”

While storming the school board may seem the only option, Cavanaugh says as recess may decrease there are ways parents can make choices at home to protect free time.

“Look at your weekly schedule. It’s not that organized activities are bad. But are your kids overscheduled? Do you have any down time for free unstructured play? It’s important for children to play with their parents. Your child doesn’t need to be constantly entertained or stimulated,” Cavanaugh says. “Make a connection with your neighbors so you can feel comfortable letting them play in the neighborhood. Try to have some free time and time to decompress. Even if it’s 30 minutes, they are much more likely to get in and do homework with a better attitude.” — AJH