Dear Teachers and Principals: Please Stop Taking Away Recess.January 18, 2022
Despite all of the known benefits of recess, taking away recess as a punishment continues to be a very popular discipline tactic used by teachers and principals.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the National Association of Elementary School Principals and Playworks surveyed almost 2,000 principles nationwide. Key findings from the survey included:
• 4 out of 5 principals report that recess has a positive impact on academic achievement.
• Two-thirds of principals report that students listen better after recess and are more focused in class.
• Virtually all believe that recess has a positive impact on children’s social development (96 percent) and general well-being (97 percent).
Ironically, in another study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 77% of principals reported recess away as a punishment. The hypocrisy is extraordinary.
A study that appeared in School Psychology Quarterly underscored the importance of recess for kids. “Results showed that levels of inappropriate behavior were consistently higher on days when participants did not have recess, compared with days when they did have recess. Results also showed that the level of inappropriate behavior for all participants progressively increased over time on days when they did not have recess. However, this progressive increase did not occur on days when the participants had recess.”
According to the CDC, recess benefits students by:
• Increasing their level of physical activity.
• Improving their memory, attention, and concentration.
• Helping them stay on-task in the classroom.
• Reducing disruptive behavior in the classroom.
• Improving their social and emotional development (e.g.,
learning how to share and negotiate).
The importance of recess has become so evident, that some states have even passed legislation requiring recess. In New Jersey, for example, elementary school students are required to have 20 minutes of daily recess, and recess cannot be taken away for academic or punitive reasons.
There is no evidence demonstrating that taking away recess improves behavior. While many teachers and principals ‘have their reasons’, taking away recess has been proven to be both developmentally uninformed and counterproductive. Let’s look at some of the reasons why recess is still used as a discipline measure, despite the research.
1) Kids like recess, so this will ‘teach them a lesson’.
That sentiment is actually very mean-spirited. In other words, the child made a mistake that made me, the adult, angry or disrupted the class, so I must do something mean to them in return. It’s retaliatory, and the lesson it teaches is not necessarily the lesson that was intended to be taught. If you want to make a child angry, or upset, or dislike their teacher- take away recess. If you want to embarrass a child in front of their peers, prevent them from getting regulated so they can meet expectations in class and prevent them from socializing with their friends- take away recess. If you’re trying to get them to remember their homework, stop calling out in class, or remember to get a paper signed, taking away recess will NOT improve that behavior durably. Developing strategies to help them remember their homework or not call out in class will help solve THAT problem. The Collaborative and Proactive Solutions Model highlighted in the book Lost At School and detailed at www.livesinthebalance.org
2) “It is essentially a brief time-out. It allows the student to reflect on their behavior and quickly get back on track.”
This was actually said by a behavior support consultant implementing the Michigan DOE’s PBIS program. This is developmentally uninformed. With all we know about how the brain works and how the lower, more primitive, “non-thinking” part of the brain is where most childhood behaviors stem from, to think that a child is “reflecting on their behavior” is nonsensical. More information on how the brain works, and the upstairs/downstairs brain can be found in the book The Whole Brain Child, by Drs. Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson. An infographic explaining the “upstairs and downstairs brain” can be found here: https://www.facebook.
3) Taking away recess is “a process where the student may ‘owe’ time from recess” because of negative behavior during class time. This was also said by an administrator in Michigan implementing the state’s PBIS program. This goes right back to the first sentiment that kids ‘like’ recess. Once again, it’s the retaliatory mindset that ‘you did something I didn’t like, so I have to do something mean to you in return’. Kids don’t “owe a teacher time”. A teacher or administrator is de-valuing recess if they think its OK to take away such an important aspect of a child’s school experience because they feel the kid “owes them” time.
As a parent, if losing recess is a threat your child has been exposed to, insist that your child does not ever have recess taken away.
Not a day of recess
Not half of recess
Not even 5 minutes of recess.
Recess is off limits.
Our children deserve best practice, and there’s no evidence proving taking away recess is an effective discipline measure. Teachers and administrators can disagree, but they can’t back it up with facts. The facts, and an evidence-based alternative, have been presented.
If a child has concerning behavior in school, address the problem that is causing the concerning behavior. Taking away recess solves no problems, however it creates many unintended consequences. Those consequences include: withholding a self-regulation tool; withholding an opportunity to learn and practice social skills; withholding physical activity that will help them meet the expectations of the classroom; withholding a needed break from the rigors of school; and making a kid lose trust in the person who wielded their power unfairly in order to “teach them a lesson”.
Recess is just too important to take away.
Please share this article. Our kids need school to understand just how important recess is.