The Value of Recess

boys playing on field
Jessica May, OTR/L, Occupational Therapist

The opportunity for supervised yet unstructured recess is paramount for a child’s development. Research consistently supports the notion that unstructured play time interspersed throughout a child’s school day provides cognitive, social/emotional, and physical benefits. In order to achieve maximal cognitive processing during focused instruction, students need to have interruptions from the classroom that are true breaks. They need to have the opportunity to diminish stress and move, socialize, and imagine. Simply shifting from one cognitive task to a different one does not allow their brains to recover from the demands placed on them. Dyslexic students in particular are working even harder during their school day to achieve academic success, so the need for a respite is especially crucial.
    Equally as important as reinvigorating their cognitive functions, students benefit greatly from the opportunity to improve social functioning with unstructured play time. These social skills include negotiation, cooperation, sharing, problem-solving, and coping, as well as perseverance and self-control. Physically speaking, there are obvious benefits to exercise and motor activity. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 60 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous activity, so clearly having the opportunity to run and play games during recess helps to achieve this daily recommendation. But beyond this, recess provides the unique opportunity for open-ended, imaginative, creative play that organized sports and physical education do not. Physical education is absolutely essential in its own right, but its value should not be confounded with that of daily recess. That opportunity for creative play is infinitely valuable for a child’s sensory-motor development. They need to have the space to ideate, plan, create, and execute novel movements on their own time, in their own way. For all of these reasons and more, recess is an indispensable and irreplaceable part of a student’s school day. 

Jessica earned a bachelor of arts at Duke University and a masters of science at Tufts University. She has worked as an occupational therapist with children and young adults for six years. She has been at The Schenck School for two years and “loves working with such unique and amazing individuals."