One of the most common punishments for kids who have not followed school rules is to withhold recess. However, pediatricians are discouraging against this practice, saying that time out for free, unstructured play and activity is crucial for the academic success of children and adolescents.
School recesses usually last from ten minutes to a half an hour and it is a time for a break from the normal “duties” of the day. In elementary school, kids typically go outside to a playground or area for physical activity and social interaction. Some countries extend the practice of school recess into senior high as well because it is vital for peer communications, quick snacks, and other activities that cannot be fit into the normal school day.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued a new policy statement entitled “The Crucial Role of Recess in Schools,” published in the January 2013 issue of the journal Pediatrics. The organization states that recess offers kids physical, emotional, social and cognitive benefits (when it is safe and properly supervised) and should complement formal physical education classes – not be a substitute for them – as a way to promote daily exercise and a healthy lifestyle.
Schools may be tempted to minimize or do away with recesses in order to cram in more academic hours each week. However, the authors discourage this, stating the result could be counter-productive; with negative consequences for academic achievement.
Play and unstructured free time at school helps children develop their physical abilities, intellectual abilities, social skills and moral capabilities. Children are more likely to perform better at cognitive tasks after a period of play, for example.
Teachers and administrators may also withhold recess, because they are trying to achieve positive behavior by taking away something fun that kids look forward to. The AAP believes that recess is “a necessary break in the day” and should never be “withheld for punitive or academic reasons.”
The authors conclude that, through recess, "the lifelong skills acquired for communication, negotiation, cooperation, sharing, problem solving, and coping are not only foundations for health development but also fundamental measures of the school experience."
The length and frequency of recess should be “sufficient to allow the student to mentally decompress,” add authors Robert Murray MD of Ohio State University School of Medicine and Catherine Ramstetter PhD of the University of Cincinnati.
Schools may also forgo recess due to safety issues; however, the AAP gives a list of steps that faculties may take to protect children, including:
• Making the provision of safe spaces and facilities for recess a priority
• Maintaining and regularly inspecting equipment
• Setting up and enforcing safety rules
• Ensuring qualified supervisors watch children during recess and intervene if a child's physical or emotional safety is at risk
• Establishing a school-wide and clear policy on bullying and/or aggressive behavior
• Alternatively, schools could teach games, rules, and conflict resolution in physical education classes (“structured recess”)
Murray R, et al "The crucial role of recess" Pediatrics 2012; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2012-2993.