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