Texas School Increases Recess Time and Reaps Benefits

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Here at The Literacy Site, we’re big believers in playtime. So is one school in Texas, following the tradition of many schools in Finland. And now research is on board too.

Finnish schools are well-known for their amazing test scores and recess-filled curriculum. Finnish children usually walk to school and don’t start their more formal school training until age 7. Before that, they learn via games, songs, and conversations. For children of all ages in Finland, school days are short and there isn’t a whole lot of homework. They spend 15 minutes outdoors for every hour of classroom time, no matter the weather, and it seems to be having an amazing effect on their success. Not just in terms of test scores, but also in various measures of all-around well-being.

Debbie Rhea, a kinesiologist at Texas Christian University, designed the program now in place at Eagle Mountain Elementary, in which children have four 15-minute recess periods throughout the school day. She heard about the success of the Finnish school system and decided to take a trip there to study it. When she returned, she began working with schools here in the U.S. to do something similar.

At Eagle Mountain Elementary, students now get three times as much recess as they used to have; outdoor time has been bumped up from 20 minutes to an hour each day. The program also focuses on helping kids develop character instead of just test-taking skills.

Since the implementation of the program, teachers are noticing that their students are more attentive and less fidgety. They make more eye contact, have better test scores, and seem to be more healthy and happy overall. They even need to sharpen their pencils less because they spend less time chewing on them or otherwise abusing them. Schools in three other states are starting a similar program after seeing this one perform so admirably.

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In other areas of the country, however, schools have been cutting back on play time in an effort to squeeze in longer lecture periods to prepare kids to pass standardized tests. While most schools in the U.S. still have recess for at least some grades, there are schools that offer no recess at all, particularly urban, high-poverty, and high-minority schools. And even in schools that do have recess, the amount of time kids spend at recess is often being cut.

Cutting recess is, no doubt, a decision made with good intentions. But is the traditional lecture-and-test method really effective? Does getting rid of recess time make more learning happen? The results of recent research says no. While more recess may not be an answer on its own, a more structured recess program that encourages kids to develop recess games with common rules and play fairly with one another can contribute to a healthier and happier student body over all. A 2014 study showed that the benefits of high-quality recess programs include the empowerment of female students, a decrease in bullying and conflicts, and an increase in the amount of safety and happiness students feel. Children have even been shown to learn better immediately following a break like recess, according to research done by Bob Murray, a pediatrician at Ohio State University. He says,

“If you want a child to be attentive and stay on task, and also if you want them to encode the information you’re giving them in their memory, you’ve got to give them regular breaks.”

So kudos, Eagle Mountain Elementary! And kudos, Finland! More of our schools need to get on the bandwagon, not only for the sake of our test scores, but for the sake of the well-being of the entire next generation.

Are you a believer in the benefits of play? Sign our petition to remind the Board of Education that play has a purpose and shouldn’t be cut out of the curriculum!

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Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?