Recess, Behavior, and Learning

By Sean Cavanagh — January 30, 2009 1 min read
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Can a kickball game help transform the climate of a school?

That playground activity and other informal “classic games,” such as four-square and tag, can promote student health, as well as improved classroom behavior and learning, some health advocates say.

Just last fall, a major effort aimed at expanding access to those activities, during recess and afterschool was launched with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The foundation, based in Princeton, N.J., awarded a four-year, $18.7 million grant to Sports4Kids, an Oakland, Calif., nonprofit, to train adult “coaches” who can supervise and encourage recess and after-school activities.

Sports4Kids’ efforts in that area will grow from five cities to 27 cities, said Jill Vialet, the president and founder of Sports4Kids.The funding will also allow the organization to broaden its training of teachers, parks and recreation works and other adults in supervising and encouraging healthy games, as well as its general advocacy for healthy games, Vialet told me.

Many educators and advocates have argued that recess and student free-time is being squeezed from the school day—and that children are suffering for it.

A study published this month in the journal Pediatrics, by researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, found that 8-9 year-olds provided a break of at least 15 minutes during the school day saw improvements in their learning, social development and health. The principal investigator on the study was Romina Barros, an assistant clinical professor of pediatrics at Einstein.

Some say the benefits of informal games are often overlooked because they lack the official structure of adult-led leagues and school sporting events. Yet “there is a structure to it—it’s just that kids have control over it,” Vialet argued. “There’s a lot of social and emotional learning that happens in that context.”

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.