Give Children a Break

The buzzword of preschool and primary school education in many countries over the past 20 years has been “accountability.” Advocates suggest – rightfully, I think – that scarce tax dollars should be spent only on programs that “work.”

But one of the less noticed effects of the movement for greater accountability has been that children’s opportunities for free time and opportunities to interact with their peers, especially at recess, has been eliminated or diminished in many school systems in the United States, Canada, and Great Britain.

Politicians and school superintendents view “accountability” as a way to prove that they are “tough on education” and are striving to improve academic performance. Indeed, it seems like common sense that reducing recess time would have a positive effect on achievement – a position endorsed by educational leaders like Benjamin Canada, a former superintendent of schools in Atlanta, Georgia. But there is no empirical or theoretical evidence to support this claim.

On the contrary, whereas many educators recognize the centrality of teaching skills and maximizing efficient use of classroom time, they also advocate breaks between periods of intense work to allow children to relax and interact with peers. They also hope that children will return to their classrooms after their breaks and work with renewed interest.