Want children to do well? Let them take a break!

Here’s more proof that breaks are good for us! A Texas school took the plunge and gave their young students four recess breaks a day, rather than the standard two, with surprisingly good results. The experiment proved yet again that break time does more than give children free time after lunch – it’s essential for good learning.

The Eagle Mountain Elementary School in Fort Worth, Texas decided to give their children two recess breaks every morning and every afternoon. At first, teachers were concerned that they wouldn’t have enough time to get through the prescribed learning material. However, to their surprise, the children were able to learn more as well as becoming more focused and less fidgety.

Said one first-grade teacher, “There was a part of me that was very nervous about it. I was trying to wrap my head around my class going outside four times a day and still being able to teach those children all the things they needed to learn.”

This unstructured play time allows children the chance to let off steam and exercise, which in turn allows them to focus more clearly during lessons. The school reported that with more breaks, there were less disciplinary actions required and children were more comfortable learning independently. Teachers also reported that their students were better able to concentrate, made more eye contact, fidgeted less and seemed to get on better with the children around them.

What’s more, the effects were long-lasting, with the children able to retain information more easily than when they were sitting at their desks with fewer breaks.

Benefits of having breaktime for children - Sage Institute of Child CareAccording to the American Academy of Paediatrics, school recess is “a crucial and necessary component of a child’s development.” Several studies show that school recess gives important benefits to a child’s cognitive, emotional, physical and social abilities. Sadly, many schools are cutting break-times to try and provide more learning in a child’s day, which is proving to be counter-productive.

As we know, even as adults, we find it hard to concentrate for long periods of time. Our brains slowly wear down. For most people, a break is needed every 30 to 40 minutes to refresh and re-energise. It’s a “reboot” for the brain. And this reboot gives us the best chance for our brains to work at an optimal level.

Kinesiologist, Professor Debbie Rhea was responsible for instigating the program at Eagle Mountain Elementary School, along with other schools, in a bid to increase the amount of physical activity and play time children are allowed in school. The program is modeled on a Finnish school system where children receive far more unstructured play time than any American school, yet consistently receive higher international education rankings in mathematics, reading and science.

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Parents too are also noticing the improvements. Some parents have noticed that their children are calmer, more creative and independent at home. The program has also made the children more social, which is understandable given the extra time on the playground.

The bottom line is clear – according to Rhea, “When it comes down to it, our kids are better off if we just let them be kids.”

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Vicki Tuchtan

Vicki Tuchtan

Vicki Tuchtan is the Academic Director at Sage Institute of Education. She oversees learning processes, teaching outcomes, resources and course development. A passionate advocate for bettering standards of training in Australia, she is currently writing her PhD thesis on defining quality training in the Australian vocational education sector.
Vicki Tuchtan

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