In J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins refers to having his second breakfast: a meal between breakfast and lunch, and one that, if missed, makes a hobbit feel woefully deprived. At Parker, the equivalent emotion is placed on second recess. When Parker students met with me last year, before I officially became Head, it was clear that a huge interest they had during their vetting process was to learn about what I thought of recess– and specifically whether I understood the importance of a second recess each day.
I didn’t need convincing. Against a national trend that is minimizing fresh air and play for students during the school day, Parker stands firm in embracing the advantages of recess. We value this time so much, that students have an outside recess at mid-day, and then another time for outside play in the afternoon. Our determination that recess leads to gains across the entire school program comes from our observations and understanding of the children themselves. Where as many schools count minutes “in seats,” Parker teachers realize that brains without oxygen, and muscles that grow slack without big movements can’t learn at all. Taking a break and having a chance to collaborate and talk with friends in unstructured play, actually enhances learning. If watching and understanding children isn’t enough to convince us, the Centers for Disease Control can cite 50 studies that support the positive association between recess and leaning.
The American Academy of Pediatrics reviewed many of these studies when they recommended that all schools provide at least one recess for students. In addition to improving the physical well-being of students, the AAP included the social and emotional benefits of unstructured time for students, concluding:
Peer interactions during recess are a unique complement to the classroom. The lifelong skills acquired for communication, negotiation, cooperation, sharing, problem solving, and coping are not only foundations for healthy development but also fundamental measures of the school experience.
No wonder then, that even without research to back up our school culture, Parker has been supportive of letting students take breaks! All of the skills needed to create the secure and productive culture we have in our classrooms, are supported by recess time. In making sure I understood the value of not just one, but two recesses, students were making sure their new head would protect their learning environment!
In the past few years, some states have begun to enact recess laws that require schools to provide at least one of the recess times that Parker students so treasure. I hope more states will follow– and hope even more fervently, that more schools will begin to root their decisions and practices in their observations of the children themselves, as Parker has done, with recess and all parts of the program, for so many years.