A recent article in Instructor magazine asked this question. They point out the trend of decreasing recess time in public schools:
Yet recess has been scaled back or cut altogether in a number of schools around the country. The trend can be traced back to the late eighties and was accelerated under No Child Left Behind. Districts under pressure to show academic progress began to squeeze as much instruction into the day as possible. Others eliminated recess because of concerns about safety, lack of supervision, and subpar playground equipment.
It’s something I’ve noticed since I began subbing. When I was in elementary school, we went out to recess everyday, unless there were weather issues. And we played during a 30-minute block. Now that I think about it (I’d completely forgotten), but we also had morning recess before the bell rang.
In the district that I where I get the most work, recess has to get in where it fits in. Usually, no one goes out each day, and certainly not for a half hour or in the mornings. Even young elementary kids can only expect a few days of recess per week, for about 15-20 minutes. Older kids may be relegated to only one day a week (glorious Fridays). I’ve seen schools take away recess altogether to give classes more time to prepare for standardized tests.
I wonder how this affects students. Do the ten or fifteen extra minutes in the classroom really benefit students, or would running outside and getting some fresh air be better? I see the benefit of letting a restless class run around outside for a while and getting some exercise. But I can also see how the 20-30 minute daily recess time really adds up as unusable instructional time. Has less recess over the last ten or twenty years improved scores? Where do you stand on this issue?
If you’re interested, the Instructor article mentions a lot of efforts to campaign for more recess, and to prevent recess from being removed altogether. It’s an interesting debate.