Recess Is A Reset: Health And Wellness

Educators, including homeschooling parents, show commitment, dedication, and patience. It is an enormous yet rewarding responsibility to educate children. Teachers, homeschooling parents, and caregivers have this tremendous responsibility and curriculum to cover. They must accommodate the "whole" child, meaning personality, temperament, mental processes, external environment, and social influences. This article illuminates the benefits of recess in the school systems and homeschooling programs to support their efforts.

What is recess? According to the Cambridge dictionary, "recess in school is a time between classes when children do not study." Recess comes from the Latin word "recessus," which refers to retreat. In other words, it's a withdrawal from pressure so that you can recharge. Recess is a reset. Recess helps to reset physical, cognitive, social, and emotional skills. It curbs burnout.

Below are some highlights of the health and wellness benefits of recess from an occupational therapist's perspective:

  • Physical activity promotes body awareness, motor planning, coordination, and visual perceptual or processing skills. Children acquire and refine these skills while manipulating play equipment, climbing, running, and exploring the playground.

  • Since children can play freely, recess can also be when children with problems stand out. If a child struggles with physical, emotional, or social skills, this is an opportune time that those challenges might present themselves. A parent, staff member, or another caregiver can identify such a child with keen observation.

  • During recess, children play and use their imagination. They can come up with ideas when play is unstructured. Unstructured play fosters flexibility, creativity, and innovation. If they can direct the play, they derive happiness and pride.

  • Children learn social skills at recess. For example, making friends, effective communication, sharing ideas, teamwork, cooperation, and conflict resolution. These are all skills required in young adulthood and adulthood for successful and meaningful personal and professional relationships.

  • Movement and physical activity releases endorphins which are feel-good hormones. These hormones enhance mood and positively affect coping with daily life and stressors. Studies have shown that aerobic exercise has a significant effect on the part of the brain called the 'hippocampus .' The hippocampus is a part of the limbic system. The hippocampus is responsible for spatial navigation, storing long-term memories such as facts, events, moods, and emotions. Executive function can be affected by stress, anxiety, or depression. Research indicates that exercise impacts the hippocampus and improves the ability to combat stress.

  • When children can release pent-up energy, cognitive skills improve. The improved cognitive skills or executive function (EF) include attention, self-control, and the ability to solve problems. Executive function can be affected by many factors. Physical activity impacts the hippocampus, which is also responsible for learning and can enhance creativity and focus. Additionally, research has shown that movement breaks or structured exercise significantly impact self-regulation and re-focusing attention.

  • Lack of physical activity and spending prolonged periods on technology are factors that are contributing to the rise in obesity in children. The long-term effects of obesity increase the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, sleep apnea, and asthma. Movement and exercise lower the risk factors of those chronic diseases. Overall, long-term physical activity and exercise positively impact mental and physical fitness. Even as little as 20 minutes, time to move can provide incredible benefits. As we know, many children are sedentary because of the long hours on technology.

  • Learning uses a lot of mental energy for typical and atypical children and can be stressful. Stress results in the fight, flight, or freeze response that hinders learning and effective memory use. Recess is a time when there are no structured learning demands. An unstructured and low-stress time results in relaxation, which helps the body return to a "rest and digest" state. A relaxed state translates children's ability to regulate their emotions—emotional regulation results in a calm, peaceful, and balanced mind that is more receptive to learning and retaining information. There will be fewer issues and interventions needed when children can practice emotional regulation with support.

All the benefits of recess emphasize its importance. Optimal learning occurs in a low-stress environment or a "rest and digest" state. Like going off on a wellness retreat, recess helps reset the mind and body. Holding back breaks has a significant impact on all children. A loss of recess particularly impacts individuals who already grapple with academics or those who struggle with self-regulation skills in thoughts, emotions, and energy levels due to underlying issues. Underlying issues could be undiagnosed disorders and environmental factors.

Recess is an activity that is usually intrinsically motivating for most kids. In other words, it provides satisfaction from the sheer act of participating in it. As adults, we too engage in intrinsically motivating activities that help us unwind and relax. It is a disservice to children to use recess as an extrinsic motivator (as a reward or punishment) to complete academic work.

Perhaps there are ways that we can intrinsically motivate children to finish their work. Teach them executive function, self-regulation skills, and how to identify and acknowledge achievement or a sense of accomplishment. When they transition into high school, college, and society, these skills will serve them.

Recess is a time of fun, relaxation, and pleasure for most kids. It helps them unwind to better function in a structured environment to meet academic and socio-emotional demands. Recess is vital for physical, social, and mental wellness. It is a health and wellness practice that all caregivers should consider ingraining in children's daily life.