Parents have often asked if we have students go outside when the temperatures dip into the teens. They have expressed the concern that exposure to such low temperatures could be a health risk for children (as well as older adults). At Harrisburg Academy, we believe children need fresh air daily — but we also recognize the importance of keeping our children healthy and safe. So when the temperatures dip below 20 degrees Fahrenheit, as they have this month, our policy is to keep our students indoors during their scheduled recess times.
When it is too cold to go outside, the question is, how should the time that was set aside for recess be used? There are strong arguments that the time could be used to add instructional time and move the children through the planned curriculum even further. However, in an article published in the December issue of The Atlantic entitled, “Why Kids Need Recess,” author Alia Wong cites studies that strongly support conducting indoor recess on these days.
The first and most obvious reason is that time to run around helps children stay fit. Second, a large body of research suggests that physical activity also boosts cognition; regular exercise improves mental function and academic performance. Third, some studies have found positive associations between physical activity and the ability to concentrate. Fourth, researchers have found when children are given recess, the have an easier time staying on task and are much less fidgety, demonstrating better classroom behavior. And fifth, Ms. Wong believes (and I concur) the most important reason is that recess allows children to design their own games, to test their abilities, to role-play, and to mediate their own conflicts — activities that are key to developing social skills and navigating complicated situations.
I believe the author provides a strong argument for creating an indoor environment that would duplicate some of the elements that benefit children when they have outdoor recess. Although limited in the physical activities that can be offered indoors (even with many movement exercises that require very little space), there is ample opportunity for children to “exercise” their social skills in their personal interactions by being given the opportunity to engage each other in a less structured and less adult-controlled environment.
Since the first year I came to the Academy, I have posted a Lowell Monke quote on the bulletin board in my office. It thoroughly sums up my belief in the necessity of recess: “If children do not dip their toes in the waters of unsupervised social activity, they likely will never be able to swim in the sea of civic responsibility.”
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