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Shrinking Recess Part 2: Cognitive & Academic Achievement
posted by: Melissa | September 10, 2019, 05:45 PM   

Guest Post by Arthur Grant

Today we present the second installment in our blog series, Shrinking Recess. In today’s installment, we list the ways that recess can affect the cognitive and academic achievement of our students. For each effect that we list, there will also be a key paper that you can read if you wish to learn more. As always, you can read the entire series at Muddy Smiles. Read on below to see four effects that Recess has on cognitive and academic achievement.

Recess Improves Attentiveness

Kids get the most value out of their school time when they’re paying attention in class, and that can be hard for them to do when they’re trapped in the classroom for long periods of time without a break. Recess gives kids a break from focusing on their schoolwork so that when they return to class, they’re really ready to learn.

A group of field experiments were conducted on elementary school children in order to determine the effect of recess timing on kids’ classroom behavior. In the first experiment, kindergartners, second and fourth graders had their recess time pushed back by 30 minutes. The second experiment used the same concept on another group of second and fourth graders in the same school. In both experiments, the longer kids were deprived of an opportunity to play, the more their attentiveness declined. After the kids were allowed to take recess, their attentiveness improved. (Source)

Key study/paper: Pellegrini A. et al. (1995). “The effects of recess timing on children’s playground and classroom behaviours”. American Educational Research Journal, 32(4)

Recess Leads to Positive Classroom Behavior

Valuable learning time gets lost when kids misbehave in the classroom, and boredom and restlessness are two major culprits in provoking impish antics in kids. Scheduling some time for them to goof off and be kids doesn’t just make them happy, it also calms them down and prepares them to focus during their lessons.

Child, parent, school and classroom characteristics of groups of fourth graders receiving a daily recess period and those without were assessed in dual studies of public data. In one aspect of this study, teachers were asked to give their class a rating based on their classroom behavior, called a TRCB score. Groups who were allowed to participate in a recess period received a higher TRCB score than those who did not. Teachers also noted that children were more focused and less fidgety when recess was over, improving the learning environment. (Source)

Key study/paper: Ramona M Barros, Ellen J Silver, Ruth Ek Stein. (2009). “School recess and group classroom behaviour”. Pediatrics, 123(2),431. 

Recess Increases Cognitive Performance

Starting at a young age, time for social and physical free play at school can play a major role in how much kids thrive in the classroom. We want their time in school to be meaningful, and when they’re drudging through tasks and out of energy for focusing, they need some time to chill out and interact with friends.

A classroom study conducted on a group of American preschoolers before, during and after research found that those engaging in social interaction during recess periods saw improvements in cognitive performance. They were better able to give their full attention to tasks and projects once they returned to the classroom after a prolonged period of outdoor free play, much like their older peers. (Source)

Key study/paper: Pellegrini D et al. (2006). “The effects of different recess timing regimen on preschoolers classroom attention”. Early Child Development and Care 17(6):735-748. 

Recess Boosts Academic Achievement

When kids stay physically active, they reap numerous benefits. Not only are they less likely to struggle with obesity, they’re also forming meaningful habits that will have a positive effect on their long term health and learning to enjoy staying fit. There’s also evidence that the kind of moderate to intense physical activity that recess provides can reduce social and emotional issues, thus improving academic performance.

In a large scale study on primary school students in China, 17,000 kids between ages 6 – 11 were assessed. Their head teacher took note of the amount of time they spent engaging in qualifying physical activity, comparing the data against their academic results. There was a clear correlation between periods of physical activity and improved academic results, including a decrease in conduct issues, hyperactive behavior, interpersonal conflict and lack of focus. (Source)

Key study/paper: Yunting Zhang, Donglan Zhang, Frederick Ho, (2019). “Social-emotional functioning explains the effects of physical activity on academic performance among chinese primary school students: A mediation analysis”. The Journal of Pediatrics 208:74-80. 

This is a multipart series and we'll be releasing a new section every week. Part one can be read here. Part three can be read here.

Arthur is a writer, researcher, and father with a keen interest in the science behind play. As chief editor for Muddy Smiles, he advocates for (loads) more unstructured play within education and at home.

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