The 4 ‘R’s: reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmatic and recess!

Kids are getting less time to simply play these days in school. More and more schools have cut recess, gym classes, and organized sports.

Here's why:

1)      In times of less available money,  ”extra-curricular” activities such as art, music (do not get me started on less music) and physical activity are cut first

2)      Children can get hurt if they are active and today there are no “accidents” – just “some one’s fault” so adults can sue the school

3)      Many believe schools are only about education – but to some extent, they are also about socialization, building community and the common good

Fortunately, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is fighting back, in the name of recess. The AAP just issued a new policy statement (The Crucial Role of Recess in SchoolsPediatrics 2013:131:181-188) promoting the physical, mental and social benefits of recess and other physical activities in school. I strongly support this statement for the many reasons they state and a few more I think are very important also.

The AAP cites, among others, these reasons to support recess:

1)      Even short breaks, allow students to decompress, revitalize and revamp for another round of academic challenge

2)      Research shows that recess works even if the child just sits and talks to his/her friend, but it must be free play (unstructured time) and a complete break from academics.  A child who is allowed to have regular breaks will perform far better in the classroom than someone who studies continuously

3)      Unstructured play allows a child to work well with others, be creative, solve problems and think independently

4)      When recess is removed as a punishment, a child does even worse in the classroom and that leads to a cycle of less and less recess and worse and worse performance in academics

Also, maybe stating the obvious, but children just need to run and play.  Yes, children need to be safe, but our society is so fixated on safety that our children get play areas that have no risk and no adventure and, often, no fun. 

In my practice I see far too many overweight and obese children and more commonly average weight children who are very out of shape.  Obesity started to rise in this country when children stopped routinely walking or biking to school.  In 1963, the year the federal government guaranteed free busing for all children who lived more than 1 mile from school, obesity started to go up as exercise went down; self-propelled school transportation stats went from 65% to less than 10% and obesity stats increased from 5% to 30% or more.

Keeping this logic in mind, maybe if the US House of Representatives had more recess than they would learn to play together better and even lose some weight.

-          Gary A Emmett, M.D., F.A.A.P.