According to a report recently released by the American Academy of Pediatrics, what children really need for increased development isn’t more homework or more activities, it’s more playtime.

But don’t bother telling Lou Roberston — she’s known it for years.

“I’ve always recognized how important the down time of recess is for our students,” said Robertson, Westside Elementary School principal and Oklahoma Elementary School Principal of the Year. “The (American Academy of Pediatrics) report only reinforced what those of us in education already know — that recess isn’t just time wasted during the day, it’s a necessary part of the children’s development.”

In the AAP’s report, entitled “The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds,” the group advocates “free and unstructured” play as essential in helping children reach important social, emotional and cognitive developmental milestones, as well as helping them to manage stress and become resiliant.

“What we’re seeing more of in the schools these days is children who are over-involved in extracurricular activities,” Robertson said. “Those activities are, in and of themselves, just fine, but students are too busy with activities just to have time to be kids — the kids are stressed from the treadmill of activities they’re on — they need the break that unstructured play during recess gives them.

“That, combined with an increased use of computers, video game and television watching has taken kids away from playing with other kids and made them more isolated,” she added. “A lot of them are coming to us not knowing how to interact with the other children — recess is more important now than ever before.”

Among the findings outlined in the AAP’s report are:

•Physical activity during recess is essential for healthy growth and development of children.

•Recess serves as an outlet of reducing or greatly lowering children’s anxiety.

•Students who do not get a bread are more likely to be fidgety and less attentive in the classroom.

•Unstructured play gives children the opportunity to exercise a sense of wonder; which leads to exploration, increased creativity and problem-solving skills

•Traditional recess activities (jump rope, kickball, and hopscotch) encourage children to take turns, negotiate or modify rules and interact cooperatively.

Compounding the need for recess, Robertson said, is the challenge of teaching more information to students without being given additional classtime in which to do it.

“I saw an interesting statistic not too long ago that reported students today are spending as much time in the classroom as they did in 1950, but the amount of information they’re expected to learn has increased by a third,” she said. “Thirty-three percent more to learn in the same amount of time — that’s telling — and it certainly contributes to more stress on the students, so they absolutely need the free time that recess gives them.”

Although the academics have increased, time alloted for recess has declined.

During her nine-year tenure as a principal, Robertson said she’s seen the time allowed for recess shrink from 30 to 20 minutes, giving students less time to develop through unstructured play and less time to “de-stress” — which could potentially be reflected in the classroom.

“I don’t know if it could be proved with a statistic that student’s academic performance is better because of recess, but I do know that students who get that playtime are much less stressed from it, and it would make sense that a student who is feeling less stressed will perform better on an exam,” she said. “Whenever our students take their CRT tests in the spring, our teachers have them stand up and dance around for five minutes before the test to get their blood flowing and get their minds active. It makes a difference.”

Ultimately, Robertson said she’s glad to have the “official” word from the AAP about the necessity of recess, and she hopes parents will heed its importance.

“We can give our students recess during the day, but their parents can give them the same thing after school,” she said. “Let them play with other children, interact with them, read them a book — it’s what we’ve known all along but have recently gotten ‘official’ confirmation on.”

The American Academy of Pediactric’s report on the benefits derived from recess can be viewed at the organization’s website, www.aap.org.

Contact Tom Fink, maned@swbell.net.

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