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A Pediatric Perspective

The Importance of Recess

Published July 11, 2014 9:17 AM by Wendy Spoor-Hof
We all know that if we ask a young child what their favorite class in school is most wil say "recess!" I can recall how important recess was when I was growing up. It was a time to meet up with friends and share the latest school news or join in a game of kickball or jump rope. We would race one another up the monkey bars (Yes!  We had monkey bars back then) or see who could swing the highest on the swings and then jump off and land the farthest distance away. Recess was a time to get out all the energy we had stored sitting in classes all morning and prepare for the afternoon of classes that were coming. 

As first a mother and then someone working in the O.T. field I could never understand the concept of taking recess away from the children who misbehaved or the children who needed to be pulled from the classroom for a short amount of time to work on special education needs. It seemed to me that these were the children that needed and would benefit the most from all the recess had to offer. When my son was in grade school and had to be pulled several times during the day for special education instruction I always made it a point during his P.P.T's to stress that I did not want him taken out of gym or recess. These were areas he needed to help him make it through the rest of the day. 

There have been numerous articles about the rise in ADHD in our country. Many doctors and parents feel this is happening because of the chemicals/preservatives we put in our foods and/or the increased amount of sugar the children are ingesting either through candy or sodas. Therapists, on the other hand, have a more simple explanation. Our kids are not getting the opportunity as much as they use to to get up and move around.  Children are not allowed to go outside and play all day as they use to when I was a child. It's just not as safe a world as it used to be and these days the chance of something happening to our child is just too great a risk.  Plus with both parents working and more and more children in preschool/daycare settings our children don't have the opportunity to experience free play as much as they use to. The only opportunity most children have to get out and play is often the time they get for recess. An article in Scholastic even explains how important recess is and how it helps give our children a chance to be more focused and open to learning.

Tim Walker recently wrote a great article about his experience teaching in Finland and how he was skeptical at first about their approach to teaching (45 minute sessions, 15 minute breaks - all day long). He even tried to incorporate the American way of teaching (longer sessions with only 1 or 2 breaks all day) thinking the children would learn more but came to realize that those frequent breaks were not hindering the ability of the children to learn but were actually giving them what they needed to stay seated and focused during the lessons. 

The Washington Post also ran an article sharing how author Angela Hanscom, a pediatric occupational therapist, felt that the increase in ADHD was actually due to our children's lack of opportunity to get out and move around. She feels that the reason our children have such a hard time sitting down and focusing is in part due a decrease in their core strength and balance abilities. She feels that many of our children who are diagnosed with ADHD may in fact have an underdeveloped vestibular system because they no longer have the opportunity to get out and roll down a hill or swing from monkey bars or climb trees. Come to think of it, I can't remember the last time I've seen a child climbing a tree or hanging from one of the lower branches. I can remember my nana often calling my sister and me in for lunch only to find us sitting in the branches of one of our trees or crouching down and crawling around playing hide and seek in the tall grass that often took over the bottom half of our yard.

So as we move into summer I offer all the parents, therapists, and teachers out there to take more time out of the day to allow our children an opportunity to get up and move. Instead of sitting inside and watching the TV - have a race to see who can roll down the hill faster. Instead of a therapy session inside, if allowed, take it outside and build an obstacle course in the grass or swing on a swing on your belly with legs dangling or dragging in the dirt. When school gets back in session stand up and fight for your child's right to participating in recess. Let's help our kids get up and move more!

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