Is there still room for recess and physical education at school?
Back to school season is in full swing and children look forward to playing with friends at recess. However, in an era where schools have banned games such as tag1 and removed hard balls from the school yard2 in the interest of preventing injuries, the question is, are children still experiencing the freedom and excitement that once accompanied the recess bell?
In Canada, 31% of schools do not have policy concerning daily physical activity periods for students3 and only 48% of Ontario elementary schools have a physical education specialist to teach those classes.4 This coincides with Canadian universities moving away from offering programs in Physical and Health Education, as the number of opportunities for physical education teachers is decreasing.5
Physical activity at school is often forced to take a back seat due to the increasing emphasis on improving test scores in subjects like math and English. Nowhere is this more evident than in the United States, where the No Child Left Behind Act has resulted in more time spent in the classroom and less time for recess.6 In fact, according to a 2012 study, schools located in states that mandated recess and physical education were far more likely to provide these opportunities for students, but 39 states had no policy for recess and 24 no policy for physical education.7
Since children spend a significant portion of their waking hours at school, opportunities for physical activity, such as recess and physical education, are essential in ensuring that they adopt healthy active lifestyles. In Canada, 90% of teachers and 86% of parents believe that physically active children are better able to learn and are better behaved in class.8 In addition, a recent review of 50 studies found positive associations between recess and development of cognitive skills, including improved attention and academic performance;9 there is also strong evidence to suggest that recess and play can prevent bullying and improve student behaviour, resulting in safer schools and more time for teaching.10
Correspondingly, outdoor classroom initiatives in Canada have been shown to promote physical activity and connect children with the outdoors.11 There appears to be a notable cognitive advantage to changes in activity, which provide a physical release that enhances social-emotional learning.12 This is hindered in schools that exclusively promote sedentary learning. The diversity offered by outdoor classroom modules allows children to experience hands-on learning to help stimulate both body and mind. The success of these programs points to the fact that children need to move more and sit less at school to succeed, and this activity will have beneficial effects inside and outside the classroom.
- Rushowy K. Tag, you’re not it. Catholic school suspends game. The Star, 2015. Available at: https://www.thestar.com/yourtoronto/education/2015/12/08/tag-youre-not-it-catholic-school-suspends-game-.html (Accessed October 5, 2016).
- The Canadian Press. Toronto school bans hard balls. CBC, 2011. Available at: www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/toronto-school-bans-hard-balls-1.1080366 (Accessed October 5, 2016).
- Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute. The 2015 Survey Physical Activity Opportunities for Physical Activity at School study. Bulletin 1: Encouraging Active Schools. Ottawa: Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute, 2016.
- People for Education. The geography of opportunity: what’s needed for broader student success (Annual Report on Ontario’s Publicly Funded Schools 2016). Toronto: People for Education, 2016.
- McGinn D. Experts sound alarm as more schools put phys-ed on back burner. The Globe and Mail, 2016. Available at: www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/fitness/experts-sound-alarm-as-more-schools-put-phys-ed-on-back-burner/article31934889/ (Accessed October 5, 2016).
- Deruy E. Learning Through Play. The Atlantic, 2016. Available at: www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/09/learning-through-play/499703/ (Accessed October 5, 2016).
- Slater SJ, Nicholson L, Chriqui J, Turner L, Chaloupka F. The impact of state laws and district policies on physical education and recess practices in a nationally representative sample of US public elementary schools. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 2012;166(4):311-16.
- Burdette HL, Whitaker RC. Resurrecting free play in young children: looking beyond fitness and fatness to attention, affiliation, and affect. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 2005;159(1):46-50.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The association between school based physical activity, including physical education, and academic performance. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2010.
- Bleeker M et al. Findings from a Randomized Experiment of Playworks: Selected Results from Cohort 1. Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. 2012.
- Thomson A. Canadian schools increasingly embrace outdoor classrooms. The Canadian Press. Available at: www.ctvnews.ca/lifestyle/canadian-schools-increasingly-embrace-outdoor-classrooms-1.3065334 (Accessed October 5, 2016).
- Ginsburg KR. The importance of play in promoting healthy child development and maintaining strong parent-child bonds. Pediatrics 2007;119(1):182-91.