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No one would argue that schools need to focus on preparing all children for the academic demands of a changing
world. But is cutting out movement, fresh air and play the way to do it? Brain researchers, social scientists, physicians,
child psychologists and parents are all beginning to answer with a resounding “no”!

“Recess defense” groups have popped up around the nation, organized by parents or teachers. This spring, the
Cartoon Network and the National PTA launched a campaign called
Rescue Recess, aimed at starting a grass-roots
movement. The rise in childhood obesity and the call for school health policies makes defending recess an even
higher-profile cause.

Check out just a sampling of “recess facts”:

  • Attention requires periodic novelty: the brain needs downtime to recycle chemicals crucial for long-term memory
    formation, and attention cycles throughout the day. Children learn more effectively when their efforts are
    distributed over time rather than concentrated in longer periods.

  • A study found that fourth-graders were more on-task and less fidgety in the classroom on days when they had
    recess, especially those who tend to be hyperactive.

  • Children permitted to play freely with peers develop skills for seeing things through another person’s point of
    view—cooperating, helping, sharing, and solving problems.

  • Elementary school children engaged in physical activity 59 percent of the time during recess, with vigorous
    physical activity occurring 21 percent of the time—slightly more time in vigorous activity than occurred during
    physical education classes (15 percent).

  • Physical activity improves general circulation, increases blood flow to the brain, and raises levels of
    norepinephrine and endorphins—all of which may reduce stress, improve mood, induce a calming effect after
    exercise and perhaps as a result improve achievement.
Recess