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Studies Examine Best Practices for Scheduling, Overseeing Recess

There's a growing amount of evidence linking physical activity to academic success in school, and recess is one of the best opportunities for students to get physically active during the school day. But roughly 40 percent of school districts have eliminated or are working on eliminating recess, according to the American Association for the Child's Right to Play.

Why the decline? It's easy to point fingers at the test-based accountability movement ushered in by No Child Left Behind, but according to a recent New York Times opinion blog, "Principals say recess is not what it used to be. ... injuries and fights in elementary schools are more prevalent and more serious than in the past."

With that in mind, two recent studies attempted to determine best practices regarding how schools schedule and oversee recess.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released a study Tuesday that found students who come from a structured recess take less time to transition from playing back to being ready to learn. Over the course of a year, teachers would gain roughly the equivalent of one full instructional day, the study suggests.

The study, which my colleague Nirvi Shah wrote about in greater length in this week's issue of Education Week, looks at schools partnering with Playworks, a nonprofit organization that helps schools provide safe, structured recess and other play time. The schools working with Playworks reported less incidences of bullying during recess, according to the report, and said their students appeared to feel more included with their peers at recess, too.

The results of the study add "to a growing body of evidence that a safe, healthy recess environment is a key driver of better behavior and learning," a press release from the foundation says.

Does Recess Affect Reading Achievement?

On a similar note, my colleague Jackie Zubrzycki wrote last week about a study that attempted to discover an ideal way of scheduling recess.

Researcher Ummuhan Yesil Dagli of Yildiz Technical University in Turkey used data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Class to determine how much time students spent in recess and reading classes, and if there was any connection between recess and students' success on reading assessments.

She discovered that recess didn't appear to have a significant effect on reading achievement. Students who had no recess scored roughly the same on reading assessments as those who had recess three or four days a week; the amount of daily recess also played no factor in reading scores.

However, Dagli did note that recess contains the positive benefit of providing "an opportunity for children to be physically active, play, and socialize—just to be a child."

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