Recognizing that more and more schools are limiting or eliminating recess so more time can be devoted to academics, the American Academy of Pediatrics published a policy statement earlier this year regarding the “crucial” importance of recess in schools:
Recess serves as a necessary break from the rigors of concentrated, academic challenges in the classroom. But equally important is the fact that safe and well-supervised recess offers cognitive, social, emotional, and physical benefits that may not be fully appreciated when a decision is made to diminish it.
There is science to back this up. A 2009 study, published in Pediatrics, concluded:
These results indicated that, among 8- to 9-year-old children, having ≥1 daily recess period of >15 minutes in length was associated with better teacher’s rating of class behavior scores. This study suggests that schoolchildren in this age group should be provided with daily recess.
Emily Bazelon agrees:
This is so intuitive to me, given my own kids’ need to move their bodies every other minute, that begging for more outside time is my main refrain at my 10-year-old’s school. I’m mystified by the Atlanta superintendent who said, in scrapping recess, “We are intent on improving academic performance. You don’t do that by having kids hanging on the monkey bars.” Actually, yes you do.
Bazelon thinks the Swiss may have better ideas:
The forest kindergarten in School’s Out is an outdoor school for 4- to 7-year-olds in Langnau am Albis, a town of about 7,000 in northern Switzerland. By school, I mean that the kids arrive every morning and spend the day there, rain, snow, or shine. I don’t mean the other associations I have for the word school, like buildings and books.
The movie opens with a song that Gardner and Davis would surely like: “I lie in the moss/and simply watch and wonder.” It’s autumn. A few kids splash through a muddy creek. One boy falls down in the water, gets up, squawks, keeps going. A larger group sits and jumps in a makeshift-looking tent that consists of a tarp hung over a pole, with low walls made from stacked branches. A teacher tootles on a recorder. Later, the teacher describes the daily routine: Singing, story time, eating, and “then the children can play where they want in the forest.” She continues, “During the play time, the children have a lot of space. They can go where they want. Usually I know where they are playing but I cannot see them always.” The camera pans to a girl on a rope swing, swinging shockingly high into the tree canopy.
Schools like these forest kindergartens will probably not be coming to a school district near you, for some rather obvious reasons. Maybe we can give kids more time to move around during the school day with daily recess and physical education, instead.
Watch a short video on one such forest kindergarten here.