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Should Your Recess Be Longer?

Many schools have cut recess to focus more on math and reading. Is it time to put fun back on the schedule?

By Allison Friedman
From the September 2019 Issue
Lexile: 500L-600L, 700L-800L
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You cram one last bite of sandwich in your mouth and rush outside for recess. You’ve been waiting for this all morning: Sunshine! Fresh air! Kickball! You’re just lining up the perfect shot when—BRIIIIIIINNNNG. The bell rings to call you back inside.

Sound familiar?

Over the past 20 years, many schools have squeezed recess out of the schedule to focus more on learning. As many as 40 percent of school districts have shortened recess—or even cut it completely.

Now, more and more kids, parents, and teachers are fighting to bring recess back. A handful of states, including Florida and New Jersey, have even passed laws giving students more free time.

But do kids need more recess?

You take one last bite of your sandwich and rush outside for recess. You’ve been waiting for this all morning: Sunshine! Fresh air! Kickball! You’re lining up your shot. Then—BRIIIIIIINNNNG. The bell rings to call you back inside.

Sound familiar?

Over the past 20 years, many schools have squeezed recess out of the schedule to focus more on learning. As many as 40 percent of school districts have shortened or gotten rid of recess.

Now, many kids, parents, and teachers are fighting to bring recess back. A few states, including Florida and New Jersey, have even passed laws giving students more free time.

But do kids need more recess?

Healthy and Happy

You’re probably thinking, “Uh, YEAH.” And a lot of experts would agree with you.

Doctors say kids need an hour of exercise each day. But between homework and family time, it can be hard to get enough. Cartwheeling around at recess can help keep kids healthy.

Playing outside gives students a boost inside the classroom too. Dr. Robert Murray, a pediatrician who studies recess, says it gives your brain an important break. “You return to the classroom calm and ready to learn,” he explains. That may be why schools that have added more recess report a rise in test scores.

And recess helps students long after the bell rings. Research shows that kids can build important life skills on the playground. You learn how to get along with others. You dream up creative ideas. You practice leading a team. These are skills you’ll need someday to start a company or create a dazzling new invention.  

You’re probably thinking, “Uh, YEAH.” And a lot of experts would agree with you.

Doctors say kids need an hour of exercise each day. But between homework and family time, it can be hard to get enough. Running around at recess can help keep kids healthy.

Playing outside helps students in class too. Dr. Robert Murray is a kids’ doctor. He studies recess. He says it gives your brain an important break. “You return to the classroom calm and ready to learn,” he explains. That may be why schools that have added more recess report a rise in test scores.

Recess helps kids in other ways too. You can build important life skills on the playground. You learn how to get along with others. You dream up creative ideas. You practice leading a team. These are skills you’ll need someday to start a company or create a new invention.

Not Enough Time 

But some say the school day is too jam-packed for more recess. Many teachers say they’d love for kids to have fun outside. But tests have gotten tougher. They need every spare minute to teach math and reading. (And you need those skills to become an inventor too.)

Besides, recess isn’t all fun and games. Some kids get picked on. Others get left out. And then there are the injuries: sprained ankles, broken wrists.

Adult supervisors can help keep the playground safe and peaceful. But schools can’t always afford to hire people for this job.

Still, some argue that recess is worth fighting for. “It gets me focused and gives me more energy,” explains 9-year-old Noah Browning. Noah lives in Florida, where a new law gives kids 20 minutes of recess each day. “Everybody deserves a break,” Noah says. 

But some say there’s no time for more recess. Many teachers say they’d love for kids to have fun outside. But tests have gotten tougher. Teachers need every spare minute to teach math and reading. And you need those skills to become an inventor too.

Besides, recess isn’t all fun and games. Some kids get picked on. Others get left out. Some get injured while playing.

Adult aides can help keep recess safe and peaceful. But schools can’t always afford to hire people for this job.

Still, some say that recess is worth fighting for. “It gets me focused and gives me more energy,” says Noah Browning. Noah is 9. He lives in Florida, where a new law gives kids 20 minutes of recess each day. “Everybody deserves a break,” Noah says.

This article was originally published in the September 2019 issue.  


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Can't-Miss Teaching Extras

Many students know that exercise is important, but they don’t always know why. Check out this article from KidsHealth entitled “Why Exercise Is Wise” to learn more about the benefits of staying active.    

One downside of recess is that it’s a time some kids face bullying. Have students consider how they can help a classmate who’s being bullied with our debate “How Can You Help When Someone Is Being Bullied?”  

Complexity Factors

Purpose

The debate presents benefits and drawbacks of breaks during the school day.  

Structure

The text consists of an introduction followed by two sections, one that argues in favor of recess and one that argues against it. Callouts sprinkled throughout provide statistics about recess.   

Language

The language is mainly conversational.

Knowledge Demands 

The text includes a quote from a pediatrician and assumes readers are familiar with this type of doctor. 

Step-by-Step Lesson Plan

1. Preparing to Read

Have students preview the text features. Ask:

  • What is the topic of the debate? (Prompt students to use the debate title and the heading on the chart as clues.)
  • What do you think are the two sides of the issue?

2. Reading the Debate 

Read the debate as a class or in small groups.

Have students read the debate a second time. Prompt them to mark the types of support the author presents to back up each side, including:

  • Facts and statistics (F/S)
  • Quotes from experts (Q)
  • Stories or examples (EX)

3. Discussing

As a class or in groups, have students discuss:

  • Which evidence is most effective in supporting each side?
  • Is one side stronger than the other? Why?
  • What is your opinion? What evidence do you find the most convincing?
  • For more-advanced students: Do you think the author has a preferred point of view on this issue? What is your evidence?

4. Writing

Have students complete the chart in the magazine.

Distribute the activity “Write an Opinion Essay.” The lower-level version guides students to write a three-paragraph essay on the debate topic. The higher-level version prompts them to bring in additional evidence and write six paragraphs, including a rebuttal of the other side. With either version, hand out our Opinion Writing Toolkit, which offers writing tips and transition words.