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School recess important to child's development, pediatricians assert

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 2 2013 1:23 p.m. MST

Students swing during lunch recess, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

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Recess time around the country has been shrinking, but the nation's top association of pediatricians said regular breaks in the school day are important for a child's body and mind.

This week, in its first policy statement on the topic, the American Academy of Pediatrics said students should not be held back from recess as a punishment or for academic reasons. The group said that recess breaks confer such learning-enhancing advantages as better attention span, improved behavior and development of creativity and social skills.

"Safe and properly supervised recess offers children cognitive, physical, emotional and social benefits," the statement said. "It should be used as a complement to physical education classes, not a substitute, and whether it's spent indoors or outdoors, recess should provide free, unstructured play or activity. The AAP recommends that recess should never be withheld as a punishment, as it serves as a fundamental component of development and social interaction that students may not receive in a more complex school environment."

The authors agreed that reducing or getting rid of recess entirely can have negative impact on academic achievement, as well.

The policy position comes at a time when schools increasingly are reducing or eliminating recess in favor of more time for academic subjects. It's often also used as a tool to punish what's seen as bad behavior or poor academic performance.

Last January, a review of 14 studies found kids who are physically active because of recess and sports team activities tend to do better in school," a report by Fox News said. "But a 2011 survey of 1,800 elementary schools found about a third were not offering recess to their third-grade classes," Fox said.

"Increasing pressures on schools to find more time for academics has resulted in an erosion of recess time around the country," AAP statement co-author Robert Murray, a professor of pediatrics at Ohio State University, told USA Today. "But we have a couple of decades of research now that indicates that recess plays a huge role in a child's life, and not just because it's fun."

In an interview with ABC News, Murray said, "The AAP has, in recent years, tried to focus the attention of parents, school officials and policymakers on the fact that kids are losing their free play. We are over-structuring their day. … They lose that creative free play, which we think is so important."

He also pointed out that Japanese schools provide 10 minutes of free, unstructured time after every 50 minutes of class time.

The policy statement, called "The Crucial Role of Recess in School," was released by the academy's Council on School Health and published online in the journal Pediatrics on Dec. 31. It said that, "Just as physical education and physical fitness have well-recognized benefits for personal and academic performance, recess offers its own unique benefits. Recess represents an essential, planned respite from rigorous cognitive tasks. It affords a time to rest, play, imagine, think, move and socialize. After recess for children or after a corresponding break time for adolescents, students are more attentive and better able to perform cognitively. In addition, recess helps young children to develop social skills that are otherwise not acquired in the more structured classroom environment."

The group said recess or playtime breaks also have potential to impact the rising rates of overweight and obesity, which many experts predict will lead to poor health as the overweight children become adults. The academy emphasized that recess was a complement to, but not a replacement for, structured physical education classes and said that students need both.

EMAIL: lois@desnews.com, Twitter: Loisco

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