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Playtime makes for better behaved children

  • 27 January 2009
  • Written by 
  • Published in Health
A New York study examined the effect that recess had on the behavior of third-grade children. They found that teachers rated their students better on behavior when given a daily dose of play. It seems that the milk saying can also be applied to play: "It does a [young] body good!"

The article School Recess and Group Classroom Behavior was published online on January 26, 2009 (and in print on February 1, 2009) in the journal Pediatrics (volume 123, number 2, pages 431-436, doi: 10.1542/peds.2007-2825).

The authors of the article include Romina Mariel Barros, Ellen J. Silver,  and Ruth E. K. Stein, all of the Department of Pediatrics, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Children's Hospital at Montefiore and Rose F. Kennedy Center, Bronx, New York, U.S.A.

Their goal in the study was to examine “… the amount of recess that children 8 to 9 years of age receive in the United States” and to compare “… the group classroom behavior of children receiving daily recess with that of children not receiving daily recess.”

The New York researchers used data from third-grade children participating in the "Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 1989-1999.”

In all, between 10,301 and 11,624 children from eight to nine years old in age participated in this study. Boys made up 50.3% of the children, while girls comprised 49.7% of the participants.

The children were divided into two groups depending on the amount of recess they got in school each day. They either were in the group that received “none/minimal” recesses (or, less than one recess per day that totaled 15 minutes or less each day) or in the group that received “some” recess (or more than one recess per day that totaled more than 15 minutes each day.

Further information about the study and its results appear on page two.

The groups were further sub-divided into five more levels based on frequency and duration of the recesses. The behavior of the children was assessed by ratings made by the teachers based on class behavior.

The researchers analyzed the data and found that children exposed to “none/minimal” recesses were 30% more likely than children with “some” recesses to be:


“from families with lower incomes,”

from families with “lower levels of education,"

living “in large cities,”

“to be from the Northeast or South”, and

to be attending "public school.”

The researchers stated in the abstract to their paper, “Teacher's rating of classroom behavior scores were better for children with some recess than for those with none/minimal break.”

They added, “However, among children receiving daily recess, the teacher's rating of class behavior scores did not differ significantly according to the level of exposure.”

They concluded, “These results indicated that, among 8- to 9-year-old children, having  1 daily recess period of >15 minutes in length was associated with better teacher's rating of class behavior scores. This study suggests that schoolchildren in this age group should be provided with daily recess.”

Lead researcher of the study and U.S. pediatrician Romina M.Barros, who is also an assistant clinical professor of pediatrics at Albert Einstein School of Medicine, was paraphrased to have stated in the January 26, 2009 ScienceDaily.com article “Daily School Recess Improves Classroom Behavior” that “… a daily break of 15 minutes or more in the school day may play a role in improving learning, social development, and health in elementary school children.”

Page three concludes with comments from Dr. Barros, along with additional information about recess and children from external sources.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (and stated within the ScienceDaily.com article), “… free, unstructured play is essential for keeping children healthy, and for helping them reach important social, emotional, and cognitive developmental milestones. Unstructured play also helps kids manage stress and become resilient.”

The article added, “However, some studies indicate that children are getting less and less unstructured playtime, a trend exacerbated by the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act.”

Dr. Barros responds to this trend, "Many schools responded to No Child Left Behind by reducing the time for recess, the creative arts, and physical education in an effort to focus on reading and mathematics.”

This research study points to the discouraging result that children from “disadvantaged backgrounds” are “especially affected by this trend.”

Dr. Barros states, "This is a serious concern. We know that many disadvantaged children are not free to roam their neighborhoods, even their own yards, unless they are with an adult. Recess may be the only opportunity for these kids to practice their social skills with other children."

She concludes, "When we restructure our education system, we have to think about the important role of recess in childhood development. Even if schools don't have the space, they could give students 15 minutes of indoor activity. All that they need is some unstructured time."

Additional information about Dr. Barros and the study appears in the Einstein News article "Daily School Recess Improves Classroom Behavior," which is a publication of the Albert Einstein School of Medicine.

Learn more about play and children in the Association for Children Education International article “Play Essential For All Children: A Position Paper of the Association for Childhood Education International.”

Information on the “Importance of Play in Child Development” is found in the online article at Child-Development-Guide.com.


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