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Principal Stresses Value of Recess for Student Achievement

Are students being robbed of their childhood when schools scrap recess for more class time?

Elementary school Principal Peter DeWitt, who pens the Finding Common Ground blog on edweek.org, certainly thinks so.

DeWitt published a blog item yesterday in which he praises the value of recess:

"There are many benefits to bringing students outside for 25 to 30 minutes a day, five days a week. They learn how to play games with friends, and they also learn how to interact with new peers that may not be in the same classroom. In addition, they learn how to work out their problems out at recess. It is a place where they can test out the problem-solving skills that we teach them during the day."

DeWitt says that recess provides students the opportunity to connect with the larger world, and that a lack of recess could contribute to student disinterest in school.

He also notes that some students won't have an opportunity to play outside at home because of where they live, which leaves schools as their only potential provider of physical activity and socialization.

When schools cut recess for extra test preparation, DeWitt isn't convinced that the additional class time boosts student performance. In fact, he believes that running and playing is critical for students' development.

There's research to back that last point up, too. A Maryland elementary school has seen huge gains on test scores and a major drop in behavioral problems since starting a running club during recess in fall 2009.

A South Carolina elementary school also saw a 13 percentage-point increase in test schools after combining physical activity with traditional classroom lessons.

DeWitt concludes:

"When schools take away recess, it symbolizes that we have really created a situation where we are ruining childhood. We are teaching our young people that class work and testing is the only thing that matters, and when a student doesn't fit into that mold, they begin to believe that they no longer matter to us."

One person who's bound to agree with DeWitt? None other than Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

On a panel at the Aspen Ideas Festival earlier this year, Duncan said that recess was critical for maintaining his own attention span.

"I was always one of those young boys who needed to run around. We had P.E. four times a week at the school I went to, we had recess, and when I ran around and burned off some steam, I could sit down and concentrate. If I didn't do it, I was pretty tough on my teachers. So it's not just about the physical benefits, it's actually about better academic success as well."

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