Are Children's Reduced Recess Times Hurting Their Development?

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Break time is on the decline for students across the country as schools decide to decrease or eliminate the traditional mid-morning and/or -afternoon play time. The goal is to ensure that kids spend more time in the classroom, but what impact is children’s reduced recess really having on their academic achievement and overall wellbeing?


At a time in which obesity has been rising in kids, children’s reduced recess has been drawing concern. This is, after all, one of the only times kids have during the day to get up and move around. Despite a growing number of recommendations that people of all ages get up and move once per hour at the very least, school districts are shifting their schedules to reduce the amount of time kids have to do that.


Could it be that children’s reduced recess is contributing to a decline in their health simply to score better on the Common Core examinations? And, if that’s the case, are the grades really improving? Over the last thirty years, childhood obesity rates have more than doubled, bringing the figure to 18 percent of American children. This, according to data released by both a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association as well as a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report. Reducing recess times makes it much harder to prevent childhood obesity in the first place. 


Less than a decade ago, the Common Core standards exams were adopted by 45 states as well as the District of Columbia. The goal of the examinations was to have a more reliable educational standard across the country in order to be able to track and measure achievements in math, language, literacy and the arts. In this way, schools within and across states could compare their achievements in order to boost their strengths and correct their weaknesses.


That said, these mandatory tests are frequently linked with a teacher’s job status and even his or her pay. Therefore, teachers have a very personal interest in ensuring their kids perform well on the tests. In order to support the students and teachers alike, many schools have reduced or removed recess time in order to provide added classroom teaching time to improve mandatory testing results.


Parents, medical groups and health experts have voiced their concerns regarding this trend. Respected research links recess with improvements in children’s diets and overall health. This is only further supported when looking at some of the most internationally applauded education systems – such as the one in Finland – where students perform the best academically. In those schools, they also happen to have regular unstructured breaks at various points throughout the day.


When children can regularly engage in a combination of physical, emotional, social and cognitive activities, they also experience improved health, wellbeing and development both in their childhoods and throughout the rest of their lives.