Pocomoke Middle School parents have a request of the school's administration: Please reinstate recess.
Most adults have some sense that taking a break from routine is a good thing, whether it's a few minutes to walk away from the task, 15 minutes to chat with co-workers or a full-fledged half-hour brisk walk. People who return to work (or the classroom) after a break often find themselves feeling refreshed, focused and ready to tackle the job at hand.
A break is a great stress reliever, too.
In today's public schools, everyone from administrators to teachers and students is feeling the pressure to increase test scores and meet the increasing demands of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Indeed, Pocomoke Middle School's elimination of recess was part of the effort to improve academic performance and raise test scores. Eliminating recess increases instructional time in the classroom.
But is this productive? Research indicates withholding recess may actually contribute to behavior problems and decreased ability to focus on the part of students, making elimination of recess counter-productive. A recent study on how recess affects academic performance found that in schools without recess, the amount of instructional time lost to fidgeting adds up to the amount of time it takes to have recess; the gain in instructional time may be without benefit. Other studies reach similar conclusions. Teachers who do not get an adult equivalent of recess may also become more irritable as the day wears on.
According to a 1998 study, this need for regular downtime is part of our physiological makeup -- our brains need a break every 90 to 110 minutes to recycle chemicals for long-term memory establishment. Regular physical activity can contribute to both mental and physical well-being.
Perhaps schools should seek to increase the quality -- as opposed to the quantity -- of available instructional time. Experience, tradition, science and observation all point to the same conclusion: Recess effectively contributes to an enhanced ability for students to focus on academics.
Pocomoke Middle School has now tried operating with and without recess. Short of discovering that academic performance improved dramatically without recess, administrators should reinstate recess as parents have requested.