Why Teachers Shouldn't Take Away Recess

Recess is an important opportunity for kids to get rid of their excess energy.
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It’s no surprise to any parent—or any adult, really—that children are full of energy. They race around playgrounds, hurdling toward balls or swings, letting off steam that has built up in them all day. If a teacher’s goal is to promote a better-behaved child, removing the opportunity to let out that pent-up energy simply isn’t the way to do it.

When an adult is trying to corral a class of 25 unruly children, she might feel like her options are limited.

After all, the teacher can’t send all 25 students to time-out, but she can take away the privilege of recess. In the end, though, taking away recess causes the teacher to punish herself.

The Benefits of Recess

It might seem like recess is just a time for teachers to recoup and for students to get a short break from learning, but it’s actually so much more than that. The average American student spends 35 hours a week inside the classroom, and during that time, their bodies become restless and their minds wander. The more time they spend inside, the less knowledge they’ll actually be able to take in from the teacher.

In a Gallup poll commissioned by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 8 out of 10 principals acknowledged that recess has a positive impact on student achievement. Two-third of principals noted that students focus more and listen better after recess.

Outdoor play allows students time to move, which stimulates their brain.

When they return to the classroom, their energy is redirected toward academic activity. Without that break, the child simply won’t be able to learn.

Naturally, recess provides physical benefits, too. Even if the student isn’t running or playing sports, says the American Academy of Pediatrics, it gives the child the opportunity to practice movement and motor skills.

Movement of any kind is beneficial toward the child getting the recommended 60 minutes of activity per day. The more activity the student gets, the less risk he has of obesity.

Alternative Discipline Options for Teachers

A teacher might not know what to do with himself if he can’t withhold recess. However, there are several other classroom discipline strategies that may be more effective:

  • Take away a little bit of recess time. Rather than withholding the entire recess period, put the troubled student in time-out for the first 5 minutes. This still gives the student the opportunity to get movement in and “reset” his brain for afternoon learning, while also providing discipline by disallowing the student to leave at the same time as his friends.
  • Place a child in time-out. When you see one child causing a problem, give her a short time-out when the incident happens. Although this won’t calm a harried teacher with a classroom full of rebels, it can provide targeted, specific discipline to those who need it.
  • Use logical consequences. If a child acts out toward another student, have the troublemaker provide restitution to the victim. If she makes a mess, she should be required to clean it up. If she’s talking back, then she should go to a silent time-out. However, there’s not an action that meets the severity of having recess taken away.
  • Create a reward system. Rather than take away privileges for misbehavior, allow a child to earn privileges with good behavior. Use a token economy system or a point system that rewards a child for following the rules during certain increments throughout the day that can be exchanged for small rewards. Reward systems work best when parents are involved in offering extra privileges at home.

Work with Your Child’s Teacher

If a teacher takes away your child’s recess, request a meeting. Explain any concerns you have about how removing recess could make behavior problems worse. Work with a teacher and school officials to try and develop an alternative discipline plan that could be even more effective.

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