Recess should not be taken away as punishment

A blogger in the New York Times writes that kids who need recess the most are the ones who most often have recess taken away, either as punishment for misbehavior in class or to sneak in a few extra minutes of instruction for students who might be struggling on a tested subject.

Author Jessica Lahey seemed surprised that in a recent Gallup poll of US principals, eight out of 10 acknowledge that time to play has a “positive impact on achievement,” and two-thirds of principals state that “students listen better after recess and are more focused in class.”

Yet, the poll also found that 77 percent of US principals have held kids in during recess as a punishment for misbehavior. What’s worse than the irony is the ineffectiveness of this punishment: Keeping kids away from recess is more likely to result in more misbehavior than it is to correct the behavior for which they’re being punished.

Important links in the article:

Ms Lahey asked one educational psychologist and former teacher about taking recess away from kids. According to Michele Borba, keeping kids in at recess causes them to lose (a) brain power; (b) connections with their peers, who are out at recess and may see the punished child as a “bad kid” in school; (c) relationships with teachers, so they may tune teachers out during important learning time; and (d) opportunities to correct the misbehavior, resulting in an unending spiral of misbehavior and punishment.

If we truly want our children to function at their academic, physical, and mental best, teachers need to stop withholding recess, and schools need to protect it. Cutting into or taking away recess time is counter-intuitive and self-defeating. When we deprive our children of the cognitive rest and physical activity they need to perform at their best, teachers undermine the very education we seek to impart.

The Maryland State Board of Education recently revised the discipline code schools should follow. Their changes were aimed at keeping students in school instead of suspending them out of school for nonviolent offenses.

Within the last month, then, we have considered two attempts to get discipline right, so that it provides the maximum learning opportunities for all children in our schools. Both policies involve improvements to the amount of time kids are able to spend in their seats, in a classroom, paying attention. Both are backed by years of research. Let’s see if schools take the advice.

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.