My first year teaching, I really struggled a lot. Obviously, there are important skills a rookie teacher has to master, like pedagogy and behavior management, but it was also my first real, full-time job period and I found the general day to day to be a difficult transition. This was compounded by the fact that my school day was from 8 AM to 5 PM. My students that year were an especially difficult bunch, but there was one part of the day where being around them was not as much of a chore, recess.
During recess, I obviously still had to watch them, but for me I found managing fun to be a little bit easier than managing class. Students were able to let out all their energy and I was able to decompress by tossing a football around with a few of my difficult students.
One day the team leader of my grade got very upset with the classes at lunch and she canceled recess for the day. The students let out an audible groan, and surprisingly I did too because that had become an essential part of the day for me. That’s when I realized: It is not just little kids who need recess. Now, that I teach much older students, I see they need some form of recess too.
There are a number of reasons that middle and high schools need to consider giving students recess:
1. The vast majority of research supports recess
Recess is good for children in virtually every measurable outcome. Academic data is better with recess. Behavioral data is better with recess. Physical fitness data is better with recess. Even nutritional and mental health data is better with recess. Virtually all the things that should matter to a school are improved with a recess block.
Why did we suddenly decide students no longer need these benefits once they turn ten?
2. Older students might need a break even more than younger ones
We often think about recess as just being a physical activity but it’s also an important mental break for students. The mental break is exactly the part high school students need. Testing and high stakes learning have created an environment in which students are constantly stressed academically. When you combine that with the general stress of being a teenager, you can see how a mental break during the day could really be beneficial.
Additionally, schools that have tried high school recess have given favorable reviews.
3. Adults get breaks
It’s funny to watch people dismiss the notion of the importance of recess right before they dart off to yoga during their lunch break or after work. Adults often get some form a break during the day. They may not use it the same way a child would during a traditional recess block, although many of them actually do.
We tell students we are preparing them for the real world, but in college, they are not going to be expected to go to class back to back to back for seven straight hours. As an adult, if they are getting the types of jobs we want them to get, they will not work continuously throughout the day without a break or autonomy. Having students sit in a classroom from 8 to 4 with only academic stimulation is quite simply preparing students for a “real world” that doesn’t exist and a lifestyle that isn’t healthy.
The most successful businesses realize how important breaks and physical activity are and are introducing a radical new idea to increase employee productivity, recess. Apple and Google have gyms and workout classes on campus for its employees. Cliff Bar has an actual rock climbing wall at its office. Jokes aside, these really aren’t new ideas either; many companies have long seen the benefits of break time and physical activity. After all, there has been a basketball court above the supreme court since the 1940s. If college students, Silicon Valley coders, and supreme court justices see the purpose of recess then we should too.
Unfortunately, this revelation comes at a time when recess is under attack. Since the passing of No Child Left Behind in the 2000s, schools have cut back on recess in favor of test prep and more class time. This has particularly been the case in urban and black and brown communities. Hopefully, school districts will re-evaluate those decisions because that strategy hasn’t worked, and the research is pretty clear about why.