16-15 Segment 2: The Importance of Recess

 

Synopsis: Recess helps kids unwind during the school day, but it’s much more than just a time to exercise. We talk to two recess “specialists” about the mental as well as the physical benefits of recess, and learn about some recess activities that help a child be more creative, more social as well as more physically active.

Host: Marty Peterson. Guests: Dr. Gail Gross, psychologist specializing in child development and families, author of How to Build Your Baby’s Brain and The Only Way Out is Through; Dan DiSorbo, co-author and illustrator of the book Recess: From dodgeball to double-dutch: classic games for players of today.

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The Importance of Recess

Marty Peterson: If there’s one thing school children look forward to during the day it’s lunch followed by recess. It’s great to get outside when the weather is nice or run around the gym during the cold or rainy days and shake off some of that reading, and writing and arithmetic with a good game of tag or shooting hoops. Recess doesn’t just give kids a literal breath of fresh air and teachers a chance to eat lunch, it also helps students function better academically…

Dr. Gail Gross: What it is in particular is free time, and free time impacts cognitive, social, emotional and physical parts of our brain. It impacts the way we think, the way we interact, the way we feel and even brain architecture.

Peterson: That’s Dr. Gail Gross, a psychologist specializing in child development and families. She’s also author of two upcoming books, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain and The Only Way Out Is Through

Gross: Anything that reduces stress also impacts cortisol, the stress hormone. And children, we have found, develop intellectual constructs and cognitive understanding through manipulation with others, interaction with others, experiences that challenge them, but in a creative way, that they’re experiencing without a specific structure, without a lesson plan or a learning experience. That it is just free time for the brain to just use itself as an orchestra to expand and take in the experiences of social as well as cognitive processing.

Peterson: Gross says that it’s that creative, free time that makes recess different from running around in gym class or playing organized sports after school. It’s the lack of structure during recess breaks that makes the difference…

Gross: Say you’re playing tag or something competitive or whatever, with the teacher instructing it. Then there’s a structure to it, and then that takes you away from your own interplay, your own unstructured, cognitive task which, if left alone, will diminish stress, whereas the other competitive and then structured by a teacher can encourage stress. So, the whole idea is for, it (allows) you to be distracted from your distraction and de-stress by the natural creative process that happens when you’re just given recess, given a break from cognitive or a structured process

Peterson: Dan DiSorbo agrees. He is co-author and illustrator of the book, Recess: From dodgeball to double-dutch, classic games for players of today. DiSorbo and Ben Applebaum compiled a book of games that today’s kids’ parents and grandparents would recognize – some with more modern variations. Even though there are rules for the games in the book, DiSorbo says they’re just a starting point…

Dan DiSorbo: We actually like to think recess is unstructured play time. I know it’s kind of almost counterintuitive to the book but what we do with the book is we just lay out, sort of, the ground rules for these games. We actually encourage, you know, if you’re playing this game, add your own twists, add your own spins. We actually include tons and tons of different variations to switch it up. But, yeah, we don’t want it to be so structured; we actually encourage unstructured playtime and let the kids go out and just have fun. Let them be, they’ll be fine.

Peterson: Recess doesn’t have to involve a game or any physical activity at all. Gross says that some children prefer to spend time alone or with one or two friends engaging in their own creative pursuits…

Gross: You can sit and journal, you could with your friends. It’s time to think, time to distress your brain. Time, time down. We all need time down. You know, when you’re working, for example, and you’re around other people you’re over-stimulated. If you go to dinner, you’re with friends at lunch, whenever you’re in a situation when you’re “on,” so to speak, you’re over-stimulated, and the brain needs time down where you’re not putting out energy but, rather, taking in energy; recharging. And that’s what recess gives a child a chance to do, recharge. Hence, when they get back into their classrooms, they’re better able to concentrate, focus and pay attention and be more productive.

Peterson: Even daydreaming out a window can be a form of recess.  Gross says that it was for a very famous genius who developed some of our most important theories…

Gross: You know Einstein had a very bad job when he first got out of school. He was a brilliant student, but he was a brilliant student without attending his graduate classes. As a result, teachers weren’t thrilled with him and they didn’t recommend him for any jobs that were worthwhile and he worked in a patent office. And in that patent office there was a large picture window, and of course since he was so brilliant, he finished his work in a very short period of time and he spent the rest of the day looking out of the window. And while he looked out of that window, he came up with three of the major theories that everything we do in our life is basically based on – including our microwave. So, the brain needs time in. It doesn’t mean…it’s fine if a child is social and wants to socialize, but introverts also need time in and so recess is not just for the extrovert, it’s for the introvert too.

Peterson: DiSorbo says that there are physical pursuits kids can do all by themselves at recess, such as jumping rope – which can be quite a challenge if you get creative…

DiSorbo: If you’re by yourself jump roping, we have a bunch of different, I guess it’s almost like tricks, you would do. So you can you know, they call them “double unders” where you try to jump twice; the “criss-cross” where you move your arms; there’s a “side swing,” so, you know, jumping rope by yourself, it’s more like doing tricks.

Peterson: Giving kids that free time to chill out and move doesn’t have to cost a lot. Schools that don’t have a lot of money for equipment don’t need to worry. DiSorbo says that the old tried and true game of “tag” and all of its variations can be a great recess break for children…

DiSorbo: It’s one of the most simple games out there as well. Basically, it’s funny, you know in the book we give it two pages – it’s tag. But afterwards when you consider all the different versions, there’s actually probably another 30 different ways to play. So as a kid growing up I would actually play the game called “Catch the Carrier,” which is similar (to “Keep Away”). You wouldn’t have a partner, it would be yourself, and you would try to run away from everyone and keep that ball away while everyone tries to catch you.

Peterson: Even in the classroom during the school day, Gross says kids should be able to move around to help them refocus their minds on the lessons they need to learn…

Gross: If the teacher understands the importance of movement and builds into the classroom a few minutes break between blocks of time for study. You know, when I was a teacher, I used to tell the children after a little bit of studying, “All right, stand up and stretch, move around, then sit down and go back.” And it helps because it moves your energy. It makes you more able to sit again, and therefore in a sense it clears your head. You can think better again.

Peterson: Gross says that intermittent movement during the school day shouldn’t take the place of recess, of that time for relaxation, creativity and recharging, and it’s not just for kids. Everyone who sits at a job for a long period of time should also get up and move around to clear their mind. DiSorbo agrees and says it not only clears out the cobwebs for adults, recess has other job-enhancing benefits…

DiSorbo: We’re going back to team building, cooperation, leadership, those are all huge parts of recess and I think maybe on more of a top level it kind of reduces some stress and pressure that you’ve been feeling throughout the day to do a good job. You might be less irritable after you have a good 30 minutes of just having fun. In my office, I have a little basketball hoop. We have a couple sets of different kinds of games that we’ll just stop for 10 minutes and talk about work but at the same time be playing something, and it actually helps boost your creativity.

Peterson: Adults and kids will find many different types of games for all skill levels in Dan DiSorbo’s book, Recess, available in stores and at chroniclebooks.com.  To learn more about Dr. Gail Gross and her work with children and families, log onto her site at drgailgross.com. You can find her books, blog and videos on topics important to families there as well. For more information about all of our guests, log onto our site at Viewpointsonline.net. You can find archives of past programs there and on iTunes and Stitcher. Our show is written and produced by Pat Reuter. Our production directors are Sean Waldron and Reed Pence. I’m Marty Peterson.

 

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