It's Time for Recess!

Recess is important for social and cognitive development of children

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Teachers might look forward to recess as much as children do. It's a chance to let kids run off their energy. But recess is also an important daily part of children's overall development.

There has been a trend across the US in recent years to replace recess with more time spent studying academics.

In response to this trend, the American Academy of Pediatrics recently published a policy statement about the importance of recess. They state that recess is a necessary part of the school day for children's development.

"Kids need recess."

The statement was authored by the AAP's Council on School Health, led by Robert Murray, MD, and Catherine Ramstetter, PhD. The authors reviewed the list of benefits that recess provides students, citing research related to physical advantages as well as the academic advantages since children need the cognitive break from their school work.

In addition, the interactions that occur among students is important for children's overall emotional and social development, the authors point out.

The authors also addressed the increasing use of structured recess, in which adults lead children in specific activities instead of allowing for unstructured play.

While there can be benefits to structured recess, the committee noted that unstructured time is important as well and that structured recess should not replace physical education.

Overall, the policy statement presented six key recommendations relating to school recess.

First, they state that recess is a "necessary break" during the school day which enhances children's social, emotional, physical and cognitive development.

"In essence, recess should be considered a child’s personal time, and it should not be withheld for academic or punitive reasons," they wrote.

Second, they state that both younger children and teens require regular breaks from concentrated class work to "mentally decompress" and for them to be able to cognitively process their learning and succeed academically.

They also note that recess complements physical education classes, but it does not replace them. While PE is an academic class, unstructured recess is also necessary to promote the "creative, social and emotional benefits of play."

Yet recess can be considered part of the 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity that children need each day to reduce the risk of becoming overweight or obese (if the children are actually engaged in moderate to vigorous activity).

Next, regardless of how structured or unstructured the recess time is, it needs to be safe and well-supervised, with playground equipment that is well-maintained and in safe environmental conditions.

The committee noted that unsafe games and activities should not be allowed, but schools should not eliminate recess altogether because of safety concerns. Finally, the committee noted the social benefits of recess time.

Peer interactions during recess are a unique complement to the classroom. The lifelong skills acquired for communication, negotiation, cooperation, sharing, problem solving and coping are not only foundations for healthy development but also fundamental measures of the school experience.

The statement was published December 31 in the journal Pediatrics. The statement did not use external funding, and there were no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 28, 2012
Last Updated:
December 31, 2012