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The Undeniable Link Between Physical Activity, Academics

David Reeves


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children who get A’s are about twice as likely to get regular physical activity compared to children who receive mostly failing grades. As an educator, you have seen for yourself the connection between physical activity and better academic performance for your students. Yet schools across the nation are continuing to cut recess time as they try to sneak in more hours of academic learning to fit into the demands of testing and curriculum mandates, and this is to the children's detriment.

Science Supports Student Activities

A study published by Pediatrics clearly shows this link. The study looked at 8- and 9-year-old children and compared their classroom behavior with the amount of physical activity and recess they received every day. More than 11,000 children were included in the survey, with an equal number of boys and girls. The study found that the children who had at least one daily recess period of more than 15 minutes were reported as having better behavior in the classroom. Better behavior means better learning by all involved.

Study after study has shown benefits to recess time, such as:

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  • Children who fidget less.
  • Children who have more focused attention.
  • Children with better memories.
  • Better negotiation skills.
  • Better ability to interact with others.

These benefits help both in and out of the classroom, and they are benefits only seen with recess. Organized gym class cannot substitute for the benefits of free recess time (although it is better than no physical activity at all).

Kids Need a Break

You aren't the only one who needs the break that recess provides. Kids need it too. Dr. Romina M. Barros, a professor and pediatrician at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, reported to the New York Times that the brain is only designed to pay attention for 45 to 60 minutes, and kids have even shorter attention spans. Regular breaks to go outside, release energy and be social help them retain the information they are being taught.

Schools that are cutting recess in favor of longer instructional periods are actually doing children a disservice. They are making it harder for the kids to learn, in spite of the fact that they are "learning" for more hours out of the school day.

The Experts Agree

If you are concerned about the lack of recess in your school, you’re not alone. Scholastic reports that the National Association for Sport and Physical Education recommends at least 20 minutes of recess per day for elementary school children. Three out of every four parents are requesting that recess be mandatory, as the National Parent Teacher Association reports. Eight out of every 10 principals say they believe that recess has a positive impact on their students' abilities to learn.

What to Do

If your school is among those that are cutting recess in favor of longer instructional times, to the detriment of your students, what can you do? These decisions are rarely made with the teacher's point of view in mind, so how can you ensure that the schools will consider your opinion when you don't agree?

First, gather the research. Grab as many authoritative sources as you can that point to the benefits of play in your students' ability to learn. Present this to the school board and leadership at your school.

Next, rally the parents. You will likely have some parents in your class who are concerned as well. Remind them that they need to let their voices be heard. If your hands are tied, you might find that the leadership will listen to parents better than they listen to you.

Finally, be persistent. If your concerns are not heard the first time, or even the second time, keep bringing them. If you become a nuisance, you just might be heard.

Kids need recess. You need to do what you can to ensure that they get it. A little bit of persistence will pay in the long run through better performing kids.

About the author:

David Reeves is Marketing Manager of Superior Playgrounds in Carrollton, GA. Superior Playgrounds is a total solutions manufacturer and supplier to industries like day care centers, schools and churches. They supply outdoor play equipment and components, including slides, bridges and climbers.

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