Over the course of a long academic career, recess was my favorite class. I would've majored in it, if I could've. From an early age, I was always more interested in matters outside the windows, than in matters inside the classroom.
In our school, recess was nearly always conducted outside. It was freedom in the fresh air with an opportunity to achieve the dirty shoes and grass-stained pants to prove it. If you didn't get dirty, you weren't really having any fun.
Recess provided a reprieve from the monotony of the classroom. It offered relief and recovery from the boring subjects, but afterward, the math and science always seemed easier to swallow.
Research now indicates that recess was actually good for my academic achievement. Studies show that the best way to improve a child's performance in the classroom, may be by removing them from it.
A recent study suggests that play time may actually be as important to academic achievement as reading, writing and arithmetic. Research indicates that regular recess, fitness or nature time can influence classroom behavior, concentration and even grades.
Published in the Journal of Pediatrics, a new study considers links between recess and classroom behavior among about 11,000 school children ages 8 and 9. Results indicate that children who had more than 15 minutes of recess a day exhibited better behavior in the classroom, than those who had little or no recess time.
Additional results indicate that students who have a regular opportunity for outdoor recreation have better concentration and exhibit greater retention of subject matter.
Lead researcher, Dr. Romina M. Barros, a pediatrician and an assistant clinical professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, explained that the findings were important because many schools do not view recess as essential to education.
Dr. Barros explained, "we should understand that kids need a break, because the brain needs that break."
The study revealed that many children are not getting that break. On average, researchers discovered that 30 percent of school children had little or no daily recess opportunities.
Another report found that 40 percent of schools surveyed had cut back at least one daily recess period. It also revealed that teachers commonly punish children by revoking recess privileges.
Dr. Barros described such actions as illogical. "Recess should be part of the curriculum," she explained. "You don't punish a kid by having them miss math class, so kids shouldn't be punished by not getting recess."
Harvard researchers back up such claims. A report in The Journal of School Health indicates that the more physical fitness tests children passed, the better they achieved on academic tests. The study, conducted with over 1,800 middle school students, suggests that children can benefit academically from physical activity during gym class or recess.
The Harvard study confirms earlier research that found exposure to nature enhances a child's ability to focus.
British educators have long recognized the importance of providing children with regular outdoor breaks. They found that children function at a higher level after exposure to the outdoors. After a short break outdoors, children exhibit greater creativity and possess more cognitive skills.
Pay attention, naturally
Researchers believe that the reason children perform better after exposure to the outdoors may be that the brain utilizes two distinct forms of attention.
"Directed" attention allows us to concentrate on topics such as work, reading and tests, while "involuntary" attention takes over when we're distracted by things like a driving rain, trees blowing in the wind, or a stunning sunset. I guess it really wasn't my fault, that I was always "involuntarily" looking out the window,.
A growing body of evidence indicates that exposure to nature is also very beneficial for children with attention deficit disorders. In the process of enjoying such naturally captivating scenes as waterfalls, these children allow their brain's directed attention the opportunity to rest.
Directed attention is a limited resource, and concentrating for long periods can leave us drained. Yet natural settings, which appear to activate involuntary attention, give the brain's directed attention an opportunity to rest. At the same time, these opportunities also teach children how to direct their attention in a natural manner.
Directed attention requires our concentration, while involuntary attention, also known as fascination; grabs us and commands our attention. It is relaxing and does not result in attentional fatigue. Researchers believe that natural settings are particularly effective in restoring attention span and reducing attention fatigue.
Of course, those of us who are regularly fascinated by nature, already knew this fact. We worked on the topic regularly through the classroom windows, and we were always the first ones out the door, to study it during recess.
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org