Many Westminster parents may have asked this question and received a similarly frank response from their child, wryly commenting to themselves, “Well, I’m glad that tuition check is being so well spent.” Actually, it is. The American Academy of Pediatrics, First Lady Michelle Obama, teachers, and educational researchers overwhelmingly agree: outdoor free play is crucial to children’s development and provides many benefits, including improvements in academic achievement and attitude toward school.
In other words, recess (or break, as we call it at Westminster) is an essential part of a well-rounded educational program, and Westminster continues to safeguard this important part of your elementary child(ren)’s school day. Unfortunately, out of concern about student achievement, many American schools have reduced or eliminated recess so that students can have more time in the classroom. This contradicts research showing that physical activity improves blood flow to the brain, supporting attentiveness, memory, and creativity, which are essential to learning. Vigorous play also releases hormones that can improve mood and reduce stress, which also benefit learning.
In addition to reducing recess time for all students, many schools use denial of recess as a disciplinary tactic. This is a real shame, because—as common sense tells us and research consistently shows—when children have the opportunity to “blow off a little steam” during recess, they are better able to concentrate on learning and behave appropriately in the classroom.
By contrast, Westminster School policy prohibits taking away recess for misbehavior in school, or even for making up missed work or receiving extra academic help. Those situations are handled in ways suitable to each, without depriving the child of the fresh air, exercise, and socialization that s/he needs. It’s important to remember that recess is valuable even when children aren’t running, jumping, and climbing or playing active games. Daydreaming on a swing, imaginative play acting, or simply chatting with friends are also great ways for boys and girls to relax from the demands of the school day, explore their inner selves, develop friendships, and hone important social skills. During recess, children are free to choose their own activities, organize games, decide what’s fair, and solve problems, all while learning to negotiate with peers.
Of course, careful adult supervision is a crucial part of recess, too. Westminster teachers are on alert to prevent accidents, re-direct misguided exchanges among the children, and generally observe and encourage the students to enjoy their break time with their friends.
Add 40 minutes of P.E. to the daily 40 minutes of recess that Westminster students enjoy, and you’re well over the hour a day of exercise called for by Mrs. Obama in her “Let’s Get Moving!” campaign. This is a powerful tool in fighting childhood obesity and setting children up for a healthy, active lifestyle. So, the next time your child says that break was his favorite part of the day, be glad. It means the rest of his day probably went a little bit better, too.