It’s hardly inarguable that fresh air and exercise are good for the body regardless of age. However, the movement toward shorter recess time in elementary schools has given rise to a debate over the developmental impact of playtime on young children. The main objective of eliminating recess is to make way for more academic instruction time, yet many scholarly sources have concluded that a break for unstructured play during the school day is critical to healthy, emotional, and cognitive development.

According to a research article in the American Academy of Pediatrics, sacrificing valuable recreational time would contribute to both physical and emotional health risks. It could lead to increased stress and reduced wellness for children under the age of twelve. While most everyone can agree that there are physical benefits of recess, there are also factors that positively affect students’ intellectual abilities.

Academic Benefits

“Children develop intellectual constructs and cognitive understanding through interactive, manipulative experiences. This type of exploratory experience is a feature of play in an unstructured social environment.

Research conducted by Dr. Anthony D. Pellegrini conclusively demonstrated the negative impact of reduced recess time on focus, energy, and the ability to learn during school hours.

In fact, it has been evidenced that some structured play, when offered to students to ensure that they are engaged in physical and social activities, provided an increase in academic performance and positive behaviors in the classroom. Vigorous activity during recess breaks provide much needed circulatory stimulation and a break from highly focused learning to more sensory interactions with peers on the playground.

Social Benefits

Making new friends is not easy, and the complexities of building a social life as an elementary student can be overwhelming for some. By allowing sufficient time outdoors, engaging in unstructured play, children are able to practice social skills involved in making new friendships. They are introduced to situations in which they must cooperate, set and follow rules, pick up on social signals, and resolve conflicts during free time on the playground.

When it comes to the debate about reducing recess time, we encourage schools to embrace the holistic development of their students. At American Parks Company® we know that there is more than meets the eye on every playground, every day. Contact us to learn more about designing an engaging park or playground in your community.