Media coverage of the American Academy of Pediatrics' new recommendation in favor of school recess glossed over one of the more intriguing proposals (to me, anyway) -- that recess never be withhold from students as discipline.

The position paper, released Monday, is based on a wealth of evidence showing that recess provides a much-needed mental break so that students can focus better when they are in class. The evidence also shows that recess is a rare opportunity for students to test decision-making and social skills -- though it also is a breeding ground for bullying if adult supervision is poor -- and that taking it away can have negative consequences.

"Ironically, minimizing or eliminating recess may be counterproductive to academic achievement, as a growing body of evidence suggests that recess promotes not only physical health and social development but also cognitive performance ... On the basis of an abundance of scientific studies, withholding recess for punitive or academic reasons would seem to be counterproductive to the intended outcomes and may have unintended consequences in relation to a child’s acquisition of important life skills."

On the other hand, the threat of taking away recess is an effective disciplinary tool for teachers, especially those challenged with large class sizes. So I checked with a couple local principals to gain their perspective on this recommendation.

Donna Montgomery of Hopkins' Gatewood Elementary School said she agrees with the AAP recommendation in general and that her teachers favor sending their children out for recess so they can have some classroom prep time. But she also noted that "students must be in the classroom to learn. Taking away the opportunity for recess is much preferred over a school suspension."

The withholding of recess is only an occasional consequence in her school.

"When they make poor decisions on the playground, such as being overly physical or hurting others, we keep them in the office for a day or two," she said in an email. "This might apply to three or four students in a month."

The authors of the new Pediatrics statement recommended that schools and researchers examine alternative forms of discipline that could effectively replace the withholding of recess.



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