What if you heard a teacher say: “Your assignment is late. You can’t eat lunch today.”
Preposterous, we say. Lunch is essential for giving kids energy. It boosts brain power, helps focus and concentration, and gives kids a social break. So does recess.
More than 30% of U.S. schools have little or no recess. For schools with scheduled recess time, teachers commonly hold recess over kids’ heads as a disciplinary threat. Restless behavior? No recess. Late homework? No recess. Missing parent signature on reading log? No recess. Didn’t finish a class assignment on time? Stay in for recess to finish it.
Recess should never be taken away for any reason. Recess is as essential as lunch.
Cognitive work (school work) takes enormous amounts of concentration and mental energy. Recess restores it. Simply looking at academics, recess is vital to improve memory, learning, concentration, creativity, problem-solving and other executive functions. Recess also refreshes the spirit, it improves children’s attitude toward school, and gives them an emotional and social break. It’s a chance to see friends and do your own thing. Recess is break from being told what to do all day.
The American Academy of Pediatrics says in its 2013 policy report that “recess is a crucial and necessary component of child’s development and…should not be withheld for punitive or academic reasons.”
Like other forms of corporal punishment, depriving kids of recess is a misguided practice that has to go. Yes, recess deprivation is corporal punishment. “Corporal” = of or relating to the body, and “corporal punishment” includes physical imprisonment.
Can teachers manage without this particular management tool? I have confidence they can. Teachers once thought they couldn’t manage their classes without swatting kids with wooden boards. Bad practices seem convenient at the time, but they have no place in quality education.
Taking away recess – whether by schedule or as punishment – deprives kids of the chance to learn at the best of their abilities.
Besides, those restless kids? Their bodies are telling us a simple message: we need recess the most.
Find out if your child’s school has a protection policy about withholding recess. If not, try addressing the issue with the classroom teacher with a preventative note:
Dear [teacher's name],
We feel strongly that recess is an essential part of the school day for optimal learning. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that no child should be deprived of recess time for any reason (behavior, missing classwork or any other). If you need to discipline [child's name], please do so in a way that does not compromise recess. We’re happy to discuss this more with you at any time that’s convenient. We’d like to do whatever we can to support you in the classroom. Thank you for all you do for the students.
Sincerely, [your name]
Has your child ever been deprived of recess? What was the cause? What other methods work well for educators?
Heather Shumaker is author of the book It’s OK Not to Share…and Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids. Her new book, coming out 2015, includes chapters on recess and homework. See more at heathershumaker.com.