Learning Environment

Recess Now and More of It

Finnish schools prove that recess is essential for mastering core subjects.

The U.S. has been recently trying to play catch-up when it comes to education compared to many of their international peers. For the past 20 years, the states have delivered progressively lower scores in reading, math, and science, and it finds itself somewhere in the middle of the bunch on national and global assessments.

Consequently, the natural solution would be to provide more content, more teaching hours, and more testing and assessments.

Not quite. There’s a better way.

Research has shown that students who participate in more physical activity during the day actually do better academically than those who spend hours strung out learning additional rigorous content. In other words, more of the same isn’t always better. What does all this mean?

More recess.

Surprised? It’s working in other countries as well as some U.S. charter schools.

Here’s why:

1. Quality trumps quantity

Extra study hours don’t equal greater material retention, according to TCU’s kinesiologist Debbie Rhea, who went to Finland to find out why Finnish schools are consistently at or near the top in international educational rankings. Besides additional teacher freedom and higher teacher salaries, Finnish schools have more recess. A lot more. In fact, one-fourth of every hour in the school day up through 8th grade is spent engaged in unstructured play. The results were surprising. Students who had frequent breaks were more attentive and confident during core subjects, had improved critical thinking skills, and enjoyed higher levels of creativity and social skill development. The Liink Project (Let’s Inspire Innovation ’N Kids) was created by Rhea to bring this concept to U.S. schools. Structured loosely around the Finnish school system, it’s a program that fosters the idea that play enhances learning. “Our mission is to bridge the gap between academics and the social, emotional, and healthy well-being of children,” said Rhea. “The Liink Project aims to develop the whole child through increased recess and character development.”

2. Students Need Movement

American public schools have attempted to improve their scores by adding in more academic hours, assessments, and test preparation. As a result, recess is being squeezed out. This isn’t helping, according to Rhea. Students are overwhelmed, exhausted, and over-tested. Children need to move. If children have the mobility they require, they can focus better in core subjects. The Liink Project has helped some U.S. schools make recess mandatory. Eagle Mountain Elementary is part of a growing movement in North Texas where recess is required four times a day. Schools in California and Oklahoma will join next year. The result? Teachers are finding that their students are less fidgety and more focused, are able to connect with deeper content, and retain information longer. They also say that their students adapt to new concepts more quickly and discipline problems have been minimized since children are moving.

3. It’s worth their health

Research indicates that kids learn better after taking breaks. Doctors say physical activity is vital for child development and helps to deter health issues, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. It improves sleep, helps with stress, and provides mental health benefits. Pair exercise with nutritious food choices at school and their overall lifestyle improves. The end result? Healthier students, higher self-esteem, and more passion for learning. The proof is in the pudding. Why conform to traditional standards if there is a better way to nurture successful students?


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