For years, grammar school teachers have punished rowdy, inattentive kids by keeping them in during recess. However, studies show that kids behave better, focus more, and do better in school if you let them out to play. That’s an important discovery, because a lot of new schools are being built without playgrounds. According to Reuters, over the past 40 years, kids in public elementary schools saw a 50% decrease in unstructured outdoor activities. In fact, the decrease accelerated after the passage of the “No Child Left Behind” initiative in 2001.  After that, when kids fell back academically, schools were pressured to reduce the time devoted to recess, creative arts, and P.E. so the kids could focus on reading and mathematics, and improve their scores on standardized tests.  

Dr. Romina Barros, a researcher at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, says that kids need breaks in order to do better in school. Dr. Barros studied the behavior of over 10,000 third-graders, and she says that kids that age can only concentrate for 40 minutes before they need a break. In fact, the kids who got at least a 15-minute break at some point during the school day were better behaved in class – and got better grades than kids who got no breaks. She also points out that recess is crucial for learning social skills. Playtime also promotes creativity and leadership skills. It also allows kids to discuss rules, collaborate, and negotiate – skills they bring back into the classroom.

Recess also helps combat childhood obesity. Fifteen percent of third-graders are overweight or obese, four times the number of overweight kids 40 years ago. Since most kids spend their day in school, doing homework, and watching TV or using the computer, they don’t get much chance to exercise. In other words, if they don’t get physical activity at school, they often don’t get any exercise at all.