Many schools get so caught up in emphasizing academic goals and “productive” work, they keep students in their chairs virtually all day. Physical restlessness is treated as a bad habit to be cured; traditional “recess” is regarded as a distraction and a waste of time. If this sounds a bit like the stereotypical “wage slave” office where employees have no value beyond their ability to generate profit for the company through perpetual motion—that’s pretty much what it amounts to, since the usual rationale behind eliminating recess is that students need every available moment for “learning,” which will give them maximum time to internalize information and “good” behavior, which will improve their academic performance, which will boost the school district’s reputation.


The irony is, it doesn’t work that way. Every objective look at recess-vs.-no-recess data shows that schools in the former category have superior academic-achievement records and better student behavior. Consider how you typically feel after four or five hours in front of the same computer without standing up: sluggish, foggy-headed, and irritable, and not exactly high-functioning, right?

Plus, considering the public concern over health effects on adults who sit too much at their jobs, it’s hard to understand why anyone would support forcing children into this habit. Smart schools not only allow daily recess, they encourage teachers to call exercise or “stand up and stretch” breaks every hour or so. Even small children can learn to enjoy yoga, aerobic, and toning exercises—especially when the emphasis is on having fun rather than “performing.”


Ideally, students should have opportunities for individual experimentation during guided movement activities, plus regular chances to develop imagination, initiative, and social skills through free play. (If there are kids who freeze in place due to complete inexperience in unstructured play—an unfortunate side effect of our extra-cautious, extra-organized age—more enthusiastic free-players can be encouraged to come up with ideas for including everyone.) By the time everyone is called back to class, their minds will be refreshed, broadened by new horizons, and ready for effective learning.


At Shady Oak, we emphasize regular physical movement because it keeps students energetic, clearheaded, and primed for success.

Science Backs Us Up! Further Resources on the Topic