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School in Texas Proves What Too Many Are Getting Wrong

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A Texas elementary school recently made headlines for, wait for it, giving kids "extra" recess time. Imagine that? A school triples recess from 20 minutes per day (yes, you read that right) to 60 minutes per day, and the whole country cheers.

It's a sad state of affairs, if you ask me.

Don't get me wrong, I think this school is making great strides toward fixing a real problem in our public education system: Treating kids like trained seals. Instead of hyper-focusing on test-taking skills and other areas of academic performance, Eagle Mountain Elementary School is educating the whole child—as in the one that needs to run and play.

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Eagle Mountain's program is modeled after, you guessed it, the Finnish school system and is spearheaded by Texas Christian University kinesiologist Debbie Rhea.

While these elementary students now enjoy four 15-minute recess periods per day, the program doesn't stop there. It also focuses on character development, including lessons on important things like empathy.

The results are eye-opening. Teachers at Eagle Mountain report that kids are less distracted, they make eye contact more frequently and tattle on each other less. In essence, the kids are happy in their learning environment.

Once upon a time, plenty of recess time was the norm in public education. While I'm grateful that my son still has two daily recess periods at his public school, many schools have decreased or cut recess. The American Academy of Pediatrics responded to this recent trend in education with a statement highlighting the importance of recess for young children. The wrote that recess "offers cognitive, social, emotional and physical benefits" for children and urged schools to protect recess and not withhold it for punitive or academic reasons.

It's no big secret that unstructured play is great for children in that it helps them learn, connect and grow. But recess also helps decrease childhood stress. Here's why:

They build friendships

We all know that time spent with a friend can really turn around an otherwise rotten day. As adults, we lean on the people we trust when the chips are down. Seeking emotional support from a friend is a skill that children begin to learn in elementary school—but only if they have the time to practice it.

Recess is the happy hour of childhood. Kids are free to play what they want, spend time with their friends and take a much-needed break from learning. Friends evolve from superficial (we're in the same class, let's play) to meaningful (you're a good friend, and I enjoy spending time with you)—especially when they have time to play together.

School can be hard. Having a close friend by your side makes the hard moments seem more manageable. That's important.

They work through emotions

All kinds of things happen during recess. Kids play, laugh, argue, fall, cry and get back up to try again. They experience a range of emotions in an open forum. Know what? That's exactly what they need.

Recess gives kids an opportunity to get their emotions out. Some of those emotions are likely to be positive, but some might be heated or laced with tears. That's OK. We all need time to let it all out. With kids sitting for longer periods and completing more demanding work, they are under stress. They need to run around, express themselves and vent. Physical activity (the kind that is spontaneous and fun) helps them do just that.

They practice empathy

When kids have ample time to play together (on their own terms), they learn to problem-solve, negotiate, take turns and care about one another. They learn to empathize.

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People love to complain that kids are too entitled and lacking manners, but I say that kids are full of pent up emotion. I see it in my office, and I see it out in the world. Kids are play deprived, and that leads to increased stress and decreased empathy.

If we want to raise a generation of kind, empathic and socially responsible kids, we have to start by letting them play. And that begins with mandatory recess time for all.

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