Schoolchildren who have a daily recess break behave better and are likely to learn more, according to a large study of more than 10,000 third-graders.
Researchers studying U.S. girls and boys, 8 to 9 years old, found that a break of 15 minutes or longer was associated with better classroom behavior (as rated by teachers).
But many kids now have less free time and engage in fewer physical activities at school because, in response to the "No Child Left Behind Act" of 2001, many school districts cut time allotted to recess in order to focus on reading and math.
The trend especially affects kids who are black, come from poor families, and go to public city schools.
The researchers concluded that "recess may play an important role in the learning, social development, and health of children in elementary school." They encourage parents to learn about physical activity and recess programs when selecting a school for their child.
What This Means to You
For kids, exercise means playing and being physically active. Kids exercise when they have gym class at school, soccer practice, or dance class. They're also exercising when they're at recess, riding bikes, or playing tag.
You might not be able to ensure your kids get a daily recess break at school, but you can make sure they're active at home. Encourage kids to do a variety of activities so that they can work on these three elements:
- endurance — developed when kids regularly engage in aerobic activity
- strength — push-ups, stomach crunches, pull-ups, climbing, and wrestling all help tone and strengthen muscles
- flexibility — stretching exercises help improve flexibility, allowing muscles and joints to bend and move easily through their full range of motion
How much is enough? According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), all kids 2 years and older should get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise on most, preferably all, days of the week.
Keep it fun, and be sure to keep active yourself so you'll be a positive role model for your kids.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: January 2009
Source: "School Recess and Group Classroom Behavior," Pediatrics, Feb. 2009.