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October 20, 2017

From rowdy to ready to learn: The cognitive, physical, and social-emotional benefits of daily recess

Any teacher knows the signs. It starts with a rustle here, a giggle there—and suddenly, the whole class is off task. Hopefully, the restlessness will kick in just before recess, and the kids will be able to run off some energy before returning to class refreshed. But many teachers across the country have had to find another approach—for many classes, recess may mean just a short break, or may only be scheduled on certain days of the week.

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As schools have emphasized the importance of literacy and mathematics in recent years, many schedules have been adapted to accommodate increased time devoted to tested subjects. Along with oft-lamented cuts to arts and music programs, daily recess has faced challenges of its own.

This month, experts have weighed in to reiterate what teachers already know to be true: recess is good for kids. It supports cognitive and social-emotional development, and helps kids return to the classroom ready to learn.

A study out this month adds more evidence to support the belief widely held by teachers that students will be more focused after taking a ‘brain break’ at recess. The study’s authors tested third-, fourth- and fifth-graders and found that the children had significantly higher measures of sustained attention after recess than before. Even students who did not participate in intensely active play and instead used recess as a time to socialize showed cognitive benefits, suggesting that the mental break away from the classroom is perhaps the most significant aspect of recess. Additionally, students build social-emotional skills by playing and socializing at recess in ways that complement their learning in the classroom. Active games and sports, role playing and imagination, and even chatting with friends develop skills like cooperation, problem solving, and sharing—all valuable skills that may not be directly taught in the traditional classroom.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has also expressed clear support for daily recess: not only is the mental break beneficial for students to recharge and process their learning throughout the day, but active play also comes with clear physical benefits. The CDC recommends that children get 60 minutes of physical activity every day, but few students meet this guideline. This level of activity helps build strong bones, muscles, and hearts, and improves memory and concentration. Because many students are not sufficiently physically active outside of school, providing an environment during the school day where students have the opportunity to play during recess helps every child meet their daily physical activity goals, encouraging them to build and benefit from a healthy body.

Teachers already know it, and the evidence supports it: kids are more able to focus after recess. But the benefits don’t stop there. Recess helps kids develop cognitively by allowing them a break to process what they’ve learned. Students who participate in active play build healthy bodies, and even students who choose to socialize during recess develop important social-emotional skills. When students start to become antsy in class, the mental break of daily recess can help them internalize what they have already learned and prepare to absorb new material.






April 24, 2017

Early childhood investments seem to be paying off

Children are entering kindergarten with stronger math and literacy skills, a recent report shows. These gains seem to be due to investments in improving the quality of early childhood programs, such as HeadStart. Stark gaps still persist between students based on race and socioeconomic status, though all groups have made progress. Behavioral outcomes did not show improvement, and some measures actually declined. The report compares kindergarteners from 1998 to those in 2010.

Researchers said that the gains amount to about 17% of what the average kindergartener learns in math and reading. Schools should take notice and adjust their curricula to ensure that all students are receiving rigorous instruction that builds on what they already know so that such gains are not lost.

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Source: Bassok, Daphna, and Scott Latham. “Kids Today: The Rise in Children’s Academic Skills at Kindergarten Entry.” Educational Researcher 46, no. 1 (2017): 7-20.

Black students saw the greatest improvements, with an increase of 12% to 25% of students deemed “high proficiency” and a drop from 69% to 54% of students deemed “low proficiency. Hispanic students saw an improvement of 10% to 18% of students who were “high proficiency” and a 10 percentage-point drop in students who were “low proficiency.” In comparison, white students saw a 9% gain in “high proficiency” and 8% drop in “low proficiency.” The achievement gap across K-12 education is largely present before students even step foot in a school, so reducing these differences between students should ultimately result in more equitable outcomes later in life, as well.

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Source: Bassok, Daphna, and Scott Latham. “Kids Today: The Rise in Children’s Academic Skills at Kindergarten Entry.” Educational Researcher 46, no. 1 (2017): 7-20.

Students haven’t necessarily been participating in preschool at higher rates, but the authors point to improvements in the quality of early childhood programs, such as HeadStart, as possible reasons for the gains. Other studies have documented improvement in activities that parents do with their children, such as reading at home or visiting zoos and museums.

While academic indicators showed improvement, behavioral outcomes did not enjoy such gains. Students were rated at similar levels as before in self-control and interpersonal behavior, but had worse outcomes in approaches to learning, which includes “children’s eagerness to learn, along with their ability to work independently, persist in completing tasks, and pay attention.” While the cause for this is uncertain, the authors point to an increase in seat work and a decrease in play-based activities for kindergarteners as a possible cause for the teacher-assessed rating change. Others have shown concern that children are losing the opportunity for self-selected activities, which promote a love of learning and social skills.

We applaud the work done by thousands of parents and early childhood educators to prepare students for school. We should continue to make investments in children, ensuring that all students have the opportunity to grow academically in the most developmentally appropriate way possible. We should also capitalize on the gains made in the early years by ensuring that they continue to grow throughout their K-12 education.

Filed under: CPE,Early Childhood,Play,Pre-k,preschool,SEL — Tags: , , , — Chandi Wagner @ 12:21 pm






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