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Recess and Better Behavior

Does a recess really help people learn? Find out in today's A Moment of Science.

Children playing outside

Photo: ariwriter (flickr)

Children playing during a recess on Shamian Island

Recess and Better Behavior on today’s Moment of Science.

It may come as a surprise to you to learn that recess is important for learning. Many studies have shown that taking breaks helps improve memory and brain function. Whether its kids playing during recess or adults taking a coffee break at work, learning happens best when it’s broken up into chunks instead of happening over one long period of time. Another way to put it is that during learning, the brain needs periodic rests to replenish chemicals important for forming long term memories.

Unfortunately, over the past few years, numerous elementary schools have shortened recess or gotten rid of it completely.

It’s not because recess isn’t valuable for learning. Many schools are under pressure to reach certain performance standards in math and reading. Administrators often cut recess in order to cram in more instruction and class work. This goes against the bulk of the scientific data that recess helps improve learning. Plus, not surprisingly, free play and physical activity have been shown to be good for kids’ mental, social, and physical health. Schools should be increasing recess time, not cutting it.

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