Teachers Need to Stop Taking Recess Away From 'Bad' Kids

recessMoms. Dads. Can we talk about discipline in schools for a minute? Specifically, the habit teachers have of punishing kids by trimming time off of recess? Have you ever heard of a discipline technique more likely to fail?

Let me just put a little disclaimer out there: I have an 8-year-old who attends public school. She has lost time off of her recess a few times, although not often. But this isn't just a problem in my house. Every time I turn around, another parent is telling me their kid is being kept inside while the rest of the wiggleworms go outside to run around and get all that energy out of their system.


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Is it any wonder some kids are "problems" in the classroom? The one time of the day when children are actually allowed to be up out of their seats, and their teachers are saying, "Uh, uh, no way, we're going to make you sit there even longer ... oh, and we expect you to deal with it."

The problem with this? Ya know, beyond common sense?

Experts have practically been screaming their lungs out for the past few years, trying to be heard by school districts about the benefits of downtime for kids even as those same school districts whittle away at the time kids get to spend outside a classroom. Programs like No Child Left Untested, er, No Child Left Behind, have put pressure on the districts to maximize academic time, and the loser is the kids. On average, today's kids get only 26 minutes of recess per day, and that includes lunchtime (when their butts are required to be in seats, and in many schools socialization is limited). Some schools have even gotten rid of recess entirely.

Unfortunately for the schools -- and for our kids -- that's not enough. Kids' activity has been intrinsically linked to their behavior.

When researchers asked teachers to rate the behavior of third graders, the kids who received at least 15 minutes of daily recess scored better than those who didn’t get recess. As Dr. Romina M. Barros of Albert Einstein College of Medicine told the New York Times when their study of recess was released back in 2009:

Our brains can concentrate and pay attention for 45 to 60 minutes, and in kids it’s even less. For them to be able to acquire all the academic skills we want them to learn, they need a break to go out and release the energy and play and be social.

Put it that way, and taking away a kid's recess is essentially setting them up to fail. It creates a vicious cycle whereby a rowdy kid misbehaves, loses recess, and then misbehaves again because they haven't gotten that break they need to be able to concentrate and pay attention.

And lest you say I'm being way too kid-centric here (shudder), the researchers will tell you that not only is recess better for the kids; it's better for the teachers too. One study released earlier this year by researchers at Stanford University actually showed that schools that put a focus on giving kids a "better" more worthwhile recess experience actually got more academic time out of the kids because the children were ready to learn.

So my question: when are the schools going to recognize this and do something about it?

I'm not anti-discipline. Kids need to be held accountable for their actions if they're ever going to learn. But then again, if kids are ever going to learn, they need a system that isn't setting them up for failure.

Do your kids lose time off of recess for misbehavior? What do you think should be done instead?


Image via NCinDC/Flickr

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