When the principal of our building said to me, "What do you think about giving our students an opportunity to get outside at lunch?" I have to admit that while I gave an affirmative response (Sure, that sounds great!), the inner educator cringed. All that I could imagine was wasting time, students being distracted, chaos and bedlam would ensue, students in 7th and 8th grade DO NOT NEED RECESS! After all this is a junior high and we have a responsibility to get our students prepared for the high school, and life. We have so much content to cover...couldn't this time be better served in an academic fashion?
But as the conversation continued, it became more evident that in order to have more successful students, we needed to give them a break. The American Academy of Pediatrics has said that "free play" or "free time" is beneficial to serve as a break from the rigors in the classroom. Here, we have subjected our students to, in some cases 4 consecutive hours of study with only a 3 minute passing time to break up the day. By giving students a chance to "rest" their directed attention by providing them time in a natural, active setting we are engaging their involuntary attention. We let them go to places we don't want them to go during class. Daydreaming, wandering, focusing on friendships, discussing what they are doing after school, playing tag!
The biggest critique has been that "recess" during the 30 minutes of student lunch (they eat first and then have 10-12 minutes of time outside) is that it has become a distraction.
I haven't heard any students tell me they are distracted...is it the adults that are distracted? Have we created lessons that are engaging enough so that students don't notice their peers outside during that small window of time?
image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/17/Youths_Playing_Red_Rover.jpg