It's Okay to Play

Growing up I was in elementary school for six hours per day. During my time there I would learn different subjects, play group games with my classmates and teachers, eat some lunch, and have recess. We had two recess periods during the day. The first was in the morning or the afternoon depending on your grade, and the other was part of a long lunch break. During recess we could play sports, hang out with friends, run in the sun, roll in the grass, get dirty, and climb trees.

The recess I remember is much different from the one I observe today. Recess is something that is fit into the schedule. Why is recess treated as an inconvenience as schools keep trying to eliminate or reduce the daily amount? This month there has been growing attention in the news about recess. Parents are discovering that something is missing from their child’s education. An education that does not include being outdoors, moving your body, and learning social skills with other children.

How was play included into your school day?

Education Week in 2014 said the average student in the United States spends 35 hours in class per week. This time in school includes a recess on average of 20 minutes per day. The school I have been at recently includes one 15-minute recess per day. To be fair I know that many schools have physical education programs that provide children access to group games and physical activity during the school day. These are usually offered as a part of the school curriculum and are not part of everyday life in the school.

The schools in Finland are praised as being the best in the world and they have a different approach to elementary education. Of the 30 hours they spend in school each week, instruction makes up 4.5 hours per day and recess equals 1.5 hours of unstructured play per day. Unstructured play is more beneficial. The non-profit National Physical Activity Plan says; “children are more physically active when participating in unstructured play”.

The American Heart Association recommends at least 60 minutes of active play for children each day. The World Health Organization says the minimum for play is two 30-minute breaks per day or four 15-minute breaks per day while in school. The Centers for Disease Control recommends 60 minutes of physically active play 3 times per week. No matter the source, children in our schools are not getting enough unstructured free play to create healthy habits and supplement the work required in school.

As this issue gains traction, I am hoping parents will see the need for more recess, and ask their school districts to bring back unstructured play time. Recess time is an important part of a quality education.

What is the amount of time you believe children should have in unstructured play each day?