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What Are the Benefits of Recess in Middle Schools?

by Alice Drinkworth

Recess is not just for elementary schools. Students in middle school can reap the same cognitive, social, emotional and physical benefits of an anticipated break from academic work. With increasing academic demands, social pressures and child obesity trends, middle school students may need recess more than ever before.

Better Performance

Children are more attentive and productive in the classroom after recess, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement on "The Crucial Role of Recess in School." The results are the same whether the recess is held indoors or out. Directed attention, such as that used in academics, has its limits. Taking an unstructured break avoids attention fatigue, regardless of the age of the child. While the time spent at recess is shorter in middle school, the periodic breaks have the same optimizing effects on the brain.

Social Development

Recess provides unstructured time for students to socialize. Since the play is child-led, the children practice negotiation in setting the rules for play, cooperation, sharing and problem solving. The social arena changes in middle school as children go through puberty and deal with feelings of self-consciousness and a greater need for peer acceptance. Recess gives young adolescents extra time to work out social issues with friends and enemies.

Childhood Obesity

Childhood obesity is a growing problem and the number one health concern for parents, according to the American Heart Association. One in three kids is overweight or obese, which is three times the rate in 1963. Recess gives students time to get off their chairs and move their bodies. Minor movement, even standing, counterbalances the sedentary time students spend sitting in classrooms and on the couch. The AAP recommends children get 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity each day.

Supervised Recess

Unstructured recess time can lead to bullying issues, which includes exclusion, safety concerns and young adolescents standing around instead of playing. A supervised, structured playtime can have some of the same physical and cognitive benefits for students while keeping them off their electronic devices during recess. Structured playtime requires trained faculty and should not be considered a replacement for the skills-directed coaching achieved in physical education classes, warns the AAP.

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