Recess not only gives students time to socialize and exercise, but also helps them stay attentive in class.
As I stood on the playground, 2nd graders Elena and Laura pulled hard on my sleeve. They kept pulling, pleading, “Look, look, Anne!” In their hands was a perfect oval of ice. It was flat with concentric ovals toward the middle, and the children held it reverently. Finding ice is always a treat, but this shape was exquisite, like a giant's jewel. After I shared their awe, they turned and ran back toward the playground. Recess had ended, but they weren't heading back to their classroom. They returned quickly, triumphant. Together they had decided that their precious find would melt if they took it inside. They had agreed to put it back in its home, just as they would have restored a bird's egg to its nest.
Constructing forts, collecting rocks, and digging are ways children create their own worlds and become more acquainted with the natural world. Children thrive when they have some choice in their day and time to create games and stories and to play. In addition, trying out new physical skills can be the highlight of the day. A kindergartner beams at being able to cross the monkey bars. A 3rd grader dances in celebration when he catches the football, and a 5th grader enjoys the camaraderie of a basketball game or playing gold rush with a teacher. The outdoors is a classroom of the students' own construction. The time spent in this classroom, however, is shrinking for many children.