Recess and Academic Achievement

Throughout the United States, early childhood educators are increasingly concerned with policies that cut recess out of the school day to make way for more academic learning. The social and developmental benefits of recess are well documented, but a new study seeks to demonstrate the academic impact of recess. The study used data on full-day kindergarten students in the United States; researcher Yesil Dagli asked whether the frequency and length of recess time had a direct effect on children’s reading scores. Ultimately, she discovered no clear relationship between the two variables. She concludes, however, that “the findings of this present study show that providing daily and longer than 15 minutes recess for students does not hurt their reading scores, nor does eliminating recess increase their reading scores. Furthermore, neither does daily and more than 15 minutes of reading and language art increase kindergarteners’ reading achievement.” Several previous studies have found even stronger evidence for the academic benefits of including recess in early childhood education settings.

In Palestine, UNICEF reports that only 33% of girls and 34% of boys were enrolled in private kindergartens or preschools to begin with. Among deeply impoverished children, whose families cannot afford to pay tuition, the percentage of children enrolled in kindergarten and preschool is much lower. The children who attend TYO’s Core Child Program for 4 and 5-year-olds would otherwise enter school for the first time in first grade. The 6 to 8-year-olds in TYO’s Core Child Program spend a maximum of 30 minutes a day in recess, and 5 ½ hours a day on academic topics. Each class is 45 minutes long. Moreover, recess in Palestinian schools is much different than in American settings. The children use their one 30-minute break in the day to eat and walk around in an asphalt area. There is no play equipment, not even balls. They do spend time playing tag and other running games. One teacher and assistant are responsible for 300 or more students during the break, which happens at the same time for all of the children in the school.

In many visits to UNRWA and government schools, we have discovered that this break time is adjustable based on teachers’ and principals’ decisions. Due to children’s aggressiveness during the break, especially in boys’ schools, teachers and administrators sometimes cancel recess altogether and end the school day 30 minutes early. Girls’ schools are less likely to cancel recess.

After school, boys and girls alike have few opportunities for supervised physical activity, especially given the lack of appropriate spaces for play in Nablus’s disadvantaged neighborhoods and refugee camps. At TYO, our approach is comprehensive and holistic. We understand that children don’t have the time or space to exercise or engage in physical free play in schools or at home. In our two hours with the children each day, we give them opportunities to encounter not just critical thinking activities, but also supervised free play. We teach children how to structure their playtime, giving them quality recess—not a free-for-all, but a guided experience that helps children reap the full benefits of play.

-Suhad and Karen

Suhad Jabi is the Psychosocial Program Manager at TYO. Karen Campion is currently a TYO Fellow as a recipient of the Princeton Class of 1956-81 International ReachOut Fellowship.