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Complex and diverse challenges face our students, teachers and schools. While addressing and assessing student academic achievement is a top priority, preparation for success also includes attending to their mental and physical health. Schools are pushed to meet testing demands. With limited time and resources, districts may create room for academics by reducing recess. This short-term response may have long-term consequences for our students. Acknowledging that recess is critical to the well-being of our children challenges us to look beyond test scores to focus on the development of the whole child.

The physical benefits of recess are well established. It allows students to develop large motor skills, engage in sports and increase their activity levels, while encouraging them to choose and vary their active pursuits. Experts suggest the type of activity is less important than movement itself, noting that recess contributes to the recommended 60 minutes of daily activity.

Yet the benefits of recess extend beyond a child’s physical well-being. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says recess enhances cognitive, emotional and social development, while promoting communication, negotiation and problem-solving skills. It also provides a way for students to vent frustrations, anxiety and even anger in an appropriate setting. By being unstructured yet supervised, recess provides a unique setting for children to interact, test and develop the skills that aid their overall social growth.

In addition to the physical and social-emotional benefits, recess enhances academic outcomes. The AAP reports that following recess, students demonstrate increased focus and cognitive processing. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation describes it as “an underutilized opportunity to improve the overall learning environment in our schools.”

Playworks Indiana is a best-in-class program that works with schools to maximize the benefits of recess. By using Playworks’ approach to inclusive, value-based recess, schools have decreased reports of bullying and increased student feelings of safety and security. A Stanford University study found using the Playworks model resulted in schools recapturing 24 hours of learning time each year.

Parents, school boards and lawmakers across the country are paying attention to the benefits of recess. Rhode Island now requires that elementary schools give children at least 20 minutes of recess each day. A Texas school district has adopted a policy providing elementary students four 15-minute recess breaks per day. Some Florida parents created a statewide advocacy network to protect and increase recess.

School recess is a sound investment that contributes to the physical, social, emotional and cognitive development of Hoosier children. This unstructured play creates lasting health benefits for our kids and helps them build life skills for future success. Recess is a serious educational strategy and we should all support its critical role in developing well-rounded, thoughtful, successful kids.

(Tami Silverman is the president and CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. She may be reached at iyi@iyi.org or on Twitter at @Tami_IYI)