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Recess in Kindergarten: Where has it gone?

Updated on February 17, 2012

What happened to recess?

Working as a substitute teacher in Central Ohio, I have been placed in a number of schools. I teach children of different ages, from different cultures, and from multiple socioeconomic backgrounds. Recently, I was employed to fill in for a kindergarten teacher at a suburban school. The students ranged in age from five to seven years old, and this particular class met three days a week. On two of these days, the students met for the entire day, and one day they were in class half of the day; I happened to work one of the full days that the students were at school, and they were with me for seven hours. Looking over the lesson plans, I was amazed to read that the students were only given a fifteen minute recess period.

I was shocked and wondered what would cause a school or district to limit the amount of time students were given for play and social interaction to fifteen minutes. After researching this conundrum, I found various viewpoints for both sides of this argument. Some experts in the field of education claimed that the importance of learning in school far outweighed that of physical play and social ineraction. These people cited the implementation of high-stakes testing, state and district standards, and parental pressure as explanations for the dismissal of recess time. Others in the field have contradicting views on the importance of recess. These members of the education community claim that recess affords students the opportunity to grow physically and socially while actually improving learning.

I look back at my schooling and recall the importance of recess in releasing energy and socializing with friends. I also remember the times when my behavior caused recess to be taken from me. In these instances, I often had difficulty paying attention the remainder of the school day when I lost recess. I believe that physical activity is beneficial to students and that time should be appropriated for students to exert themselves; however, I am curious as to how much time should be dedicated to play. Is fifteen minutes adequate, or should students receive more time to move and interact physically and socially?

Students in kindergarten are still developmentally growing mentally, physically, and socially. Time should be dedicated to all three of these areas, and I feel that such time should be equally divided. Kindergarten students obviously need to learn many things that will become a foundation of their future schooling, including letter recognition, reading, telling time, learning about the calendar, etc. These children also require physical activity to ensure fine and gross motor development. Socially, students need interaction with peers in order to develop empathy and basic conversational skills. In order to develop children into active members of a community, they will require all of these skills, and they should be given equal consideration in planning to educate young students.

The debate over the importance of recess in schools is certain to continue. Schools and districts will choose to provide more or less time for recess based on what they believe is more important. Some will feel that academics need to be the focus, while others will choose physical and social development as equals to cognitive development. I hope that these same people can put aside their own ideologies and make their decisions based on what is best for the children, not schools, districts, and test scores.

How long is adequate for recess in kindergarten?

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