Pediatricians: Recess Crucial for Development, Academic Success

The move to add more instructional time by eliminating recess could prove to be detrimental to kids in the long run according to a statement released by the American Academy of Pediatrics. ABC News reports that the statement is the latest addition to the debate over the relative importance of rest and activity periods like recess [...]

The move to add more instructional time by eliminating recess could prove to be detrimental to kids in the long run according to a statement released by the American Academy of Pediatrics. ABC News reports that the statement is the latest addition to the debate over the relative importance of rest and activity periods like recess when it comes at the expense of academics.

The AAP calls recess crucial to childhood development, and says that eliminating or withholding it as a punishment or in service of academics is counterproductive. AAP’s Dr. Robert Murray explained that the statement only clarifies the group’s position on the importance of unstructured play time during the school day, something that they’ve attempted to communicate to parents and schools officials for the past several years.

Murray added that many schools are so determined to squeeze as many instructional minutes into the day as possible that they’re over-structuring, completely overlooking the fact that a period of rest and play could prove to be more useful than an additional 15 minutes of lessons.

The statement, which cites two decades worth of scientific evidence, points to the various benefits of recess. While physical activity is among these, so too are some less obvious boons such as cognitive benefits, better attention during class, and enhanced social and emotional development.

Pediatricians not directly involved with the drafting of the statement applauded the AAP’s move to save recess.

Dr. Barrett Fromme, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Chicago, said the fact that the debate is even taking place is “fascinating,” and completely at odds with the experience in the business world where companies that offer their employees flexibility throughout the day are lauded for being most effective for getting the most out of their workforce. If adults thrive when given such freedom, then taking it away from kids seems like a wrongheaded approach.

“This policy statement is not only important because of the physical, but also the cognitive ability of our children,” said Dr. Shari Barkin, director of the Division of General Pediatrics and of pediatric obesity research at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “This policy has created a thoughtful, comprehensive look at what is to be gained by coming back to an emphasis on physical activity and recess.”

In drafting the statement, AAP relied on a large body of research which has consistently demonstrated the benefits of unstructured play time to children both to behavior and academics. ABC News cites a 2009 study published in Pediatrics which found that among 11,000 third-graders, those who had recess built into their school day performed better in class than those who did not.

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