Recess Is Not a Privilege, so Stop Using It to Punish Kids

| Opinion
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(Photo: iStock)

By now, you know we’re big advocates of self-care. From sharing tips on how to make stress your friend, to taking time out to develop mindful, energetic attitudes, self-care is a crucial part of a strong daily routine. We even devote a whole culture to the idea of how breaks during work help recharge and refresh our mind to harness a greater creativity and productivity.

Yet, if we are so adamant on the concept for a balanced mental and physical well-being as adults and take those 30-minute breathers between meetings or assignments, why do we still treat recess as an earned privilege for our children? After all, the concepts are similar and both are a fundamental right.

When it comes to our children’s recess, too many of us are ignoring the current research that supports their well-being and future. Instead of considering a break from class as a critical part of a student’s development and physical skills, recess has become the common option for punishment among teachers trying to rein in disruptive students.

In a study titled “State of Play” commissioned by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, researchers discovered a whopping 77 percent of schools in the U.S. continue to withhold recess as punishment for disobedient students, even though educators are well aware of academic, cognitive and social developmental benefits. So why are we continuing to hold their chance for a little adventure and socialization back?

As parents, we choose to accept this form of punishment for our children, even though we ourselves indulge in a break or two at our place of employment when we need a refresher. But withholding recess isn’t an effective method of punishment for kids. While state and district-level policies can guide a teacher’s decision to keep students in from recess, it’s something we need to stop being passive about.

MORE: Why Children Should Experience Disappointment

By taking away recess from students, we give our children the impression that a break away from studying and working is only bestowed to compliant individuals. But recess is not a privilege, nor is it a reward for good behavior. It is a right.

Why should children have to earn recess? We certainly don’t earn breaks at work. In fact, many of us are encouraged in the adult world to step out by our superiors and co-workers when we are seemingly overworking every assignment.

If you hadn’t noticed, children are built to move from a very young age and with American students spending at least 30 to 35 hours a week inside classrooms, the more time they spend at a desk, the more their focus seemingly dwindles as they grow restless.

The Journal of School Health found recess has the power to give children a much-needed break from intense studying as it teaches them social skills, keeps them physically active and encourages them to use their imagination.

Recess not only provides movement that stimulates students’ brains, but it allows them to redirect their energy toward academic activity when they return to the classroom. But depriving students with high activity levels of recess is not going to improve their behaviors. In fact, it will just worsen that of children who misbehave because of excessive boredom and energy.

According to a study from Dr. Olga Jarrett, a professor in the College of Education at Georgia State University, teachers often express frustration in the few options they have for controlling misbehavior. Moreover, they share that recess becomes a form of punishment because they simply don’t know what else to do when looking to maintain control.

While there are no simple and solid solutions, as parents and educators, we need to be more creative when it comes to taking alternative actions and discuss options with our childrens educators. Some teachers have found rather than punishing negative behavior, acknowledging positive conduct in the classroom helps as an effective method in positive reinforcement.

Jarett suggests imposing corrections that can be directly linked to misbehavior, like when a student is bullying another, teachers could enforce an apology rather than withholding recess.

Childhood is such a short-lived period and with the times, the amount of play they have today has dramatically decreased from when we hit the playground. Wouldn’t you want to be more creative for the sake of their future?

When we take away recess from our children, it’s like taking away something essential that feeds our development like math, reading or spelling. It doesn’t help students to be better in the classroom or well-rounded people — it’s just hindering their development in every facet we value. That isn’t right, nor is it in their best interests.


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Tania Hussain |

Tania Hussain is a native of Toronto and a Hoosier at heart, studying journalism at Ball State University in Indiana. She has a mad love for fine cheese, film, music, and meeting people upon her many travels. When Tania’s not writing at Womanista, she can be found going for long nature runs, rooting for the Indianapolis Colts and St. Louis Cardinals, photographing sights and food, or writing for her online magazine, The Hudsucker. She is also a member of the Indy-based, Society of Professional Journalists—one of the oldest organizations in the U.S. that promotes and represents journalists.