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Posted at 10:19 AM ET, 02/ 4/2010

Recess and academic achievement

By Valerie Strauss

A new Gallup poll out today shows that most elementary school principals report that recess has a positive impact on academic achievement and that students listen better and are more focused in class after being out on the playground.

Did we really need Gallup to state the obvious--the obvious being that taking a break from an intense activity (such as math class) can be re-energizing? Do you ever take a break at work for this very reason?

This poll tells us at least as much about the value of recess as it does about the state of educational thinking today.

For the record, the poll tells us that recess is valuable for academic process and social development, that No Child Left Behind has led to a reduction in recess time, and that most disciplinary problems occur at recess because the time is often poorly supervised.

Here are some findings from the poll, sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation with help from the National Association of Elementary School Principals (which provided the sample of principals who were surveyed) and Playworks.

--8 out of 10 principals report that recess has a positive impact on academic achievement
--2 out of 3 principals say that students listen better and are more focused in class after recess.
--96 percent of principals believe recess has a positive impact on social development.
--97% of principals believe that recess has a positive impact on general well-being.
--1 in 5 principals indicate that the testing requirements of No Child Left Behind over the past decade have led to a decrease in recess minutes at their school.
--Half of principals report that students receive 16 to 30 minutes of recess per day.
--77% of principals report taking recess away as a punishment.
--Principals report that the vast majority of discipline-related problems occur outside of class time, at lunch or recess.
--Principals want more staff to monitor recess, better equipment and playground management training, in that order.

The recommendations:
*Policymakers should take recess seriously
*Schools should manage recess more efficiently and make sure kids have the time to go.
*More staff should be provided to monitor recess and/or current staff should be better trained.

The poll follows a study published a year ago in the journal Pediatrics that found that children who have 15 minutes or more of recess time behaved better in class and were more likely to learn than those who had little or no daily recess.

So the findings of the Gallup come as no surprise.

But then, in education, little rarely is. We know certain things--even if we keep doing them with the same bad results.

We know that using standardized test scores as be-all and end-all assessment measures is a bad idea, but we do it anyway.

We know that the arts are enriching in many ways and should be part of a child’s education--but we find those classes expendable, and then feel the need to justify their existence by showing that they help kids get better grades in geometry.

We know that well-constructed physical education can help kids get/stay healthy but even in an obesity explosion among young people, it is rarely mandatory.

Until we stop being so foolish about our approach to education, I guess pollsters will keep doing surveys on things we already know.

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By Valerie Strauss  | February 4, 2010; 10:19 AM ET
Categories:  Elementary School, Health, No Child Left Behind  | Tags:  recess  
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What I want to know is why all the schools schedule recess AFTER lunch? Do we adults eat our lunches and then go exercise? No! Why do we think our kids should do it that way?
My kids complain all the time that they have to eat their lunches too fast because the other kids are all scrambling to get out to recess. And then they complain they get tummyaches from running around after cramming down their lunches.

Posted by: bkmny | February 4, 2010 11:37 AM | Report abuse

I once saw a textbook that recommended activities that teachers could do during the kindergarteners' snack break to increase their math skills. Thirty years ago, the teachers in a local school threatened to strike if they weren't given one totally free period a day and playground aides so they didn't have to work during their lunch hour. Apparently, only adults are entitled to breaks from work. Maybe the problem is that children aren't allowed to drink coffee--a break for caffeine is sacred, but a break for exercise is expendable.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | February 4, 2010 9:27 PM | Report abuse

Why did they ask the principals? Some of these folks haven't been in the classroom with kids for awhile. I think everyone (including middle and high school kids) needs a break for fresh air and exercise if weather permits. When we lived in England, teachers took kids out for recess everyday, even if it was cold, or rainy (properly dressed for the elements.) Ten minutes was enough time for them to recharge those brains and get ready to refocus again.

Posted by: SouthernKentuckyMom | February 5, 2010 9:22 AM | Report abuse

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