While most school districts across the country are cutting back on recess time and ramping up the Ritalin, one Texas school has kindergartners and first graders sitting still and “incredibly attentive.”
What’s their secret? Their recess time has tripled.
Instead of 20 minutes of recess per day, Eagle Mountain Elementary kindergartners and first graders now get an hour, broken up into four 15-minute breaks, in addition to lunchtime.
Their teachers say it’s totally transformed them.
The kids are less fidgety, less distracted, more engaged in learning and make more eye contact.
Eagle Mountain is one of dozens of schools in Texas, Oklahoma and California testing out extra recess time as part of a three-year trial. The pilot program is modeled after the Finnish school system, whose students get some of the best scores in the world in reading, math and science.
The designer of the program — called LiiNK — is kinesiologist Debbie Rhea of Texas Christian University. Rhea spent 6 weeks in Finland in 2012 to discover the secret of their success.
The biggest difference Rhea noticed was that students in Finland get much more recess than American kids do — 15 minutes of “unstructured outdoor play” after every 45 minutes of instruction.
They key is the “unstructured,” Rhea told TODAY, which means kids are allowed to run, play and make up their own games.
While indoor breaks are better than none, Rhea says they should ideally take place outdoors because fresh air, natural light and vivid colors all have a big impact on brain function.
The LiiNK website says benefits of frequent recess include:
- Increased attentional focus
- Improved academics
- Improved attendance
- Decreased behavioral diagnoses (anxiety, ADHD, anger)
- Improved creativity and social skill development
Some of the teachers at Eagle Mountain say they were nervous about how they would keep the kids on track academically with all the lost classroom time. But halfway through the first year of the program first-grade teacher Cathy Wells told NPR her kids “were way ahead of schedule.”
Wells said she’s spending a lot less time sharpening pencils these days.
“You know why I was sharpening them? Because they were grinding on them, they were breaking them, they were chewing on them. They’re not doing that now. They’re actually using their pencils for the way that they were designed — to write things!”
“If you want a child to be attentive and stay on task — if you want them to encode the information you’re giving them in their memory — you’ve got to give them regular breaks,” says Ohio State University pediatrician Bob Murray.
Murry helped write the American Pediatrics Association’s policy statement on recess.
He says brain scans have shown kids learn better after a break for physical activity and unstructured play.