Up With Recess! (And Down with Homework)

In case you had a sneaking suspicion that when schools chip away at recess time, they are doing their students no service, along comes this nice little study to say: You’re right. And while we’re at it: Grrrrrr.

Thanks to No Child With A #2 Pencil Left Behind, more and more schools are sucking time out of play and handing it over to classroom larnin’. Nothing wrong with larnin’ of course. (Except spelling it that way.) But this study, released last week, found that kids who took a brisk 20 minute walk on a treadmill actually read at a GRADE HIGHER level than when they picked up a book after sitting around for 20 minutes.

Here’s the study: http://tinyurl.com/cm8odq

And here’s the fabulous website stophomework — http://stophomework.com/ —  which is dedicated to bringing sanity to how we fill our children’s time. As Sara Bennett, the founder of the site and author of The Case Against Homework, points out:  homework not only takes time away from free play, in the grammar school years it does not give anything back. For kids below middle school, “there is no correlation between homework and academic achievement,” Bennet says.

 Still, I know my kids bring home homework every day, and have since kindergarten. It’s the worst part of their day (and mine!). And all it means, says Bennet, is that “Kids spend an awful lot of time doing something there’s no proven value to.”

Meantime, there IS proven value to play. It just seems weird to have to justify it that way: “Go out and play, sweetheart – it is so educationally sound!” But if that’s what it takes to get schools to start rethinking homework, so be it.  – Lenore

52 Responses

  1. As I read on and on, I appreciate what a very happy childhood I enjoyed… In my school, homework was only memorizing things (there was no time at school for that), but mainly just catching up with things you didn´t finish during class time. So homework was a sort of punishment for not working properly at school, which makes sense, doesn´t it?

  2. Totally agree. My 8 year old gets far too much homework. I think the excuse given nowadays is that it prepares them for high school, but I just reckon she’ll be burnt out by then.

  3. Can you refuse to let your kids do homework before Middle School? (I don’t have kids of my own)

  4. I’m surprised that so many schools are cutting recess. All of the teachers I worked with as a teacher’s aide LOVED recess. And not because they got a break from the kids (to do planning work) but because the kids really needed it. They exercised, played, regrouped and were ready to get back to academics. You can see the difference in them when they return. They are refreshed and calm and eager to learn. If they didn’t have it, they would certianly be drained and frustrated.

  5. I have to second this. I home school my kids and I know if I have my son run down the street and back or jump on the tramp right before taking his Multiplication quizzes he always does 25 percent better than if he goes straight in without the exercise. It is amazing to me what a little blood n the brain can do.

  6. […] Two articles I enjoyed, one about letting kids play more and do less homework and the other about things that are more dangerous than terrorists. Don’t be afraid of Life, Live it. From Free Range Kids […]

  7. Haven’t had time to read through everything so maybe it’s been mentioned, but I remember hearing that researchers looked back into the studies of rats with “enriched environments” that set off the buying of all the enriching media and toys for kids. The did studies separating out the various elements of the environment and found the one thing that really helped the rats seems to have been running on the wheel.

  8. Lenore, how cool! I just did a post yesterday about schools considering a formal curriculum to teach emotional intelligence, and how much better (I think) it is to just give kids time to play. If anyone would like to read it, here is the link:
    http://stoneagetechie.blogspot.com/2009/04/another-subject-better-played-than.html

    Thanks for this, it is great food for thought🙂

  9. I know a six-and-a-half year old who last week had neurosurgery. You know how she’s spending this week, which is her spring break? Not just recovering–she’s also making up the lessons and homework she missed last week.

    Seriously. Why is this necessary?

  10. As a teacher I rarely give homework. If a kid does not finish the work I give in class I expect that they will get it done but I never hand out extra which is unusual for high school teacher.

    My wife who teachers 3’s and 4’s doesn’t give homework but if they do not complete the days work she expects that they will get it done at home.

    With our own children, we are quite had nosed about getting school work done in class so that they don’t have to come home with it. both the teachers rarely give extra work so if they come home with work it means they were screwing around in class and we do not tolerate that.

    Homework in elementary is bad for kids, but it is important to differentiate between work that should have been done in class but wasn’t and work they have been given over and above what has been given in class.

  11. My new principal doubled recess – so not all schools are cutting it.

    There is a bill in the Texas Legislature that will mandate 20 minutes of recess in addition to the required physical activity requirement. The only problem is the way it is worded it will kill music and art programs because schools will have to have 30 minutes of PE each day (meet min physical activity requirement) and 20 minutes of recess. We are hoping to get it changed so that some of the physical activity requirement can be met by 20 daily recess (30 minutes would be better) .

    That way all Texas kids can get something like what my students get during a week
    150 minutes recess outside (barring rain),

    90 minutes PE, (Soccer and running club after school

    45 minutes Art, (Clubs after school)

    45 minutes Music, (Choir after school

    45 Minutes tech class (60% of our kids don’t have access and lack of tech knowledge is hurting them in middle school), Announcement crew/tech crew trained to fix machines, trouble shoot software, install software, and run TV station.

    45 minutes of Library (Buddies before school help shelve books and can run library if librarian is absent.)

    BTW – this is K – 5 school

    Each grade goes to specials 45 minutes 4 days a week and 90 minutes the other day. The 90 minute specials day are PEP and give the teachers, Principal, AP, Math Specialist, Reading Specialist, and Math Specialist time to review what is and is not working for our kids and discuss alternative approaches to concepts.

  12. Hooray! Thanks for posting this! I posted some links about this topic on facebook a while back. (Yeah, yeah. facebook. I know. I know.)

    U.S. school children need less work, more play: study | Reuters
    Source: http://www.reuters.com/article/email/idUSTRE50P0PK20090126

    More links on the apparent benefits of play:

    The Serious Need for Play:
    http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=the-serious-need-for-play

    The cognitive benefits of play: Effects on the learning brain:
    http://www.parentingscience.com/benefits-of-play.html

    This ties in with what the vast majority of patients and their parents report to me at work. It appears to be very difficult for some children to get a basic amount of exercise/play AND get enough sleep. Yes, there are additional factors at play, but I don’t see evidence that the current educational push is healthy.

  13. Oh my Gawddddd. Please excuse the spelling errors in that last post. I am so embarrassed. I suppose I should proofread.😉

  14. One thing I like about college as opposed to all the school that came before is that the homework assignments have meaning. Generally they’re not busy work. Makes learning actually fun to do. It’s frustrating to have busy work and then as a result feel too burnt out afterwords to learn things on my own for fun outside of class.

  15. My 2nd grader only gets 15 min. a day of recess, and to top it off her grade doesn’t get their recess until 3:00 in the afternoon!! School ends at 3:40!! Can you imagine being 7 years old, studying all day and not getting outside until school is almost over?? I hate this but don’t know how to combat it.

  16. We just moved to Upstate New York and while I love the fact that my son can walk to school here, they only have recess twice a week! And we’re in the opposite boat from Tina’s — school is 9:05 to 3:15 and he gets recess (when he gets it at all) from 9:57 to 10:27. Argh!

    But I am very grateful that his teacher doesn’t believe in homework. She will give the absolute minimum amount that she can get away with before some of the other parents start complaining.

  17. I have suspected this for years. My daughter gains little or no benefit from the 60-90 minutes of homework she gets every night, but I sure see a terrific impact of an hour of healthy play on her attitude and comprehension.

    But as you pointed out, No Child Left Untested is destined to create a generation of overweight, joyless automatons.

  18. I recently read “Brain Rules” which provides a pretty good insight into how a lot of the things schools do is counter productive.

    http://www.brainrules.net/

    I do remember that in college I was getting way more out of M/W/F classes which were 50 minutes long vs. Tu/Th classes which were 75 minutes long. I simply couldn’t concentrate for that long without getting my blood flowing by walking between classes.

  19. Ugh, I don’t even want to get started on this topic! Thanks for the link, I will check it out. More ammo…Lisa

  20. This is another reason why we enjoy our living and learning lifestyle we get to have as a homeschooling family. Our play and work are all one and the same!

  21. Thanks for the shout-out!

  22. The New York Times also ran an article on research that recess–particularly free time spent outside in natural settings–improves behavior, concentration and academic performance.

    At my son’s school, the 4th and 5th grade teachers say that parents demand a lot of homework (or alternately, that they themselves believe a lot of homework is necessary) in order to prepare kids for heavy homework loads in middle school.

    Earlier this year, I planned to lug my son’s schoolwork on a family reunion trip for him to do each night. Then I realized that I’d be fuming if my husband brought along his office work–so why did I expect my son to clock several hours of homework a night during our “vacation?” Indeed, he was able to quickly catch up once we returned from our trip.

    Advocating for recess and PE is important, along with gently pushing teachers to keep homework meaningful and sane, in terms of quality/quantity.

    But I also think we have to make sure that our homes don’t become mini-workplaces for parents and kids alike. That same free time (especially spent outdoors) that improves health and concentration at school is also important at home. I recently advocated for finding this balance on my blog, Ordinary Kid.

  23. My kids go to a school where they still have the traditional recess structure – 2 a day, sometimes 3 if they’re good, and the first is about 20 minutes, the second 15. My kids have gotten in trouble for not wanting to come back in! LOL.

    They positive thing is that while the teachers do give homework, they only give it once a week, only 2-3 pages of things that they’ve normally covered in class, and most of the time, they aren’t concerned if the kids actually do the homework.

    My only problem is what they call “Readers Are Leaders” where you have to read each night and record the minutes AND turn them in… my kids read all the time, but between everyone doing everything in our house, there is no set time, we forget to write them down, and they miss out on the celebrations they have at school for reading… the kicker is that my daughter’s teacher says she “knows” my daughter is a reader, but can’t do anything about it. Sad. 😦

  24. One of the reasons I homeschooled my kids is that the gifted programs around here load up the homework.

    Studies show that gifted kids do better without repetitive stress syndrome. They either get it, or they don’t, and then they can ask for help.

    I wholeheartedly agree. Homework is just busy work. Let them play. Let them play games. Let them do crosswords or sudokus and develop logic and strategy.

  25. I’m hoping to have the resources to allow my husband to homeschool our son (he’s 2 1/2 now) while I work, oddly enough in the education system. We’re waiting on my acceptance to several Canadian teacher’s colleges right now.

    When we were kids, we had 3 recesses a day, each at least 15 minutes and the lunch one was half an hour. I cannot imagine children and their teachers being forced to sit for 8 hours a day with only one 15 minute break! It’s ridiculous! I hope that things haven’t changed too much from when I was a kid, and that the Canadian system is radically different from that of America.

  26. I have two daughters that get way too much homework that requires them memorizing things. I am not sure why this is a “good idea” since we all use Google these days.

    I feel so passionate about play that I started a company that creates children’s software games that focus on being ALOT of fun first, with the by-product of reading comprehension. Our current game – ItzaBitza – delights kids by turning their drawings to life.

    I see ItzaBitza as a new way for kids to truly enjoy learning really hard things – like learning to read. We just one the Parents’ Choice gold medal and have excellent reviews on Amazon.com.

    I’d love to hear what you think.

    best,
    Margaret, mom of two, CEO of Sabi

  27. We unschool which is as Free Range as it is possible to get. We are always learning but never do homework.

  28. I know I’ve said this before, Lenore, but you *really* ought to look into Waldorf education. I’m not saying you have to sign your kids up tomorrow, but I am saying that if you take the time to talk to a few Waldorf teachers, you will find people who have been practicing much of what you preach for a long time. Not nearly as Free Range as much as I would like, but a huge emphasis on playing as opposed to homework and academic work in the early grades, and a huge distrust of the media, that you would resonate with.

    And speaking of resonating, I finished your book today, except that I had to skip some stuff toward the end, because I was getting that feeling…that feeling that these issues give me, when they are well articulated…a helpless sense of anger and frustration that I don’t like feeling. Your “international” chapter was particularly effective in evoking this, by drawing such a sharp contrast between the insane English-speaking world and the still-sane rest of the world. They take their cues from us, in general, not the other way round, which is a very bad sign.

    I loved the research you did on the media, interviewing reporters “off the record.” I would love it if you could do some comparable research into the issue of lawsuits in particular. I always wonder how much that is at the root of all the other issues–as you yourself point out, a baseball team that outlaws sliding is making a perfectly rational reation to an irrational problem–and if so, how anyone can possibly do anything about it.

  29. As a teacher, I do not want to give homework. However, parents expect it and see homework as a sign of learning. The solution is parents communicating to school administration that they do not want homework for elementary age students.

  30. Homework is a wee bit of a conundrum in that kids who are not saddled with a ton of it are healthier happier kids but those kids who have home work heaped on them are far more academically ahead of those kids who were not (on average).

    As an example of this, we have a huge Asian population where I live of which ½ of my family is also. My children are what my wife and I call halfers. Traditionally the Asian culture demands that their children study constantly and if their teacher doesn’t give them homework they will find someone who will. Any recreation comes in the form of intense music study or high level athletics. There is no idle time.

    In the end when it comes time to get into University, those kids from Asian families are the ones who are waltzing into post secondary institutions. Social misfits perhaps but they are getting those valuable seats in our places of higher learning. Caucasian families frequently cry foul but the kids who are doing the academic work are getting their rightful place in university as the entrance requirements dictate.

    Right or wrong this is the way it is and therefore you have parents who demand rigorous academic schedules for elementary kids.

  31. I am a mother of 2, and from kindergarten on, my children have loved having homework–they love the “grown-up-ness” of it all. And since they don’t watch TV or play video games, nor are they burdened with loads of after school activities, they have plenty of time for play outside when they finish their work.

    And I suspect it’s the moms who over-schedule their kids and then insist on hovering over them to be sure every ‘i’ is dotted who are feeling overwhelmed and pressuring their kids.

    I had homework each night as a child in the 70’s, but I also had from 3-7 to play outside because my parents didn’t fill every minute of my time with organized activities. Leave homework alone! It’s part of becoming a responsible human being!

  32. Kids with “reading problems” often read a level or 2 higher than normal if they have just stepped off a session balancing on a balance board. I’m all for LOTS of free play. We’re super laidback homeschoolers. But I have to wonder if the treadmill effect was more about the repetitive up/down steadying eye movement from walking, similiar to the side-to-side scanning of reading, than exercise per se. I second the Brain Rules recommendation for EVERYONE–it’s a brilliant book.

  33. Oops, wrote the previous comment before reading the full text. Even better news! Thanks for sharing. And folks, if you can’t get the kids outside, say in awful weather, a balance board is a good way to get there too. (No I don’t sell them or anything! I just loved mine as a kid.)

  34. “Homework is a wee bit of a conundrum in that kids who are not saddled with a ton of it are healthier happier kids but those kids who have home work heaped on them are far more academically ahead of those kids who were not (on average). ”

    Not true. At all.

    There is *no* academic value to homework before high school, and many studies have shown a *negative* correlation between homework and later achievement in school.

  35. MY kids still get at least one recess period a day. (possibly 2 as a reward) My kids just had their standardized testing a couple of weeks ago. Yes, The weeks preceding the testing were filled with so much homework that we couldn’t possibly get it all done. But then during the testing, the kids spent the entire time that they weren’t doing tests, watching movies and DVD’s from what I can tell. Their “reward” at the end of testing was a trip to the local movie theater and then lunch at Chuck E Cheeses. This is from one of the schools that is supposedly at risk for passing to begin with. (Oh,yeah, and at the parents expense too)

    It seems that they certainly could have been more creative at their reward strategy. (I would have loved to see more outside recess time instead of the in school movies and DVD’s — even in March)

  36. Sorry, that’s a negative correlation between homework *in the early grades* and later achievement.

  37. Lenore,

    I saw this with my own kids. The school they started at this year had, maybe, one day a week recess. My kindergartner’s teacher sent note after note home saying how he could not sit still. Imagine that, a five year old that can’t sit still. In their new school that requires at least thirty minute per day recess he has gotten nothing but good reports and is reading and spelling on a first grade level. Thanks for a great post.

  38. Not only is NCLB taking time away from recess, but it’s taking time away from other important lessons in the class-the curriculum is completely narrowed. If it’s not on the test,. it’s not important enough to be taught. There are many schools who have completely thrown Science and Social Studies out the window, as well as have thrown reading novels (because they need the time for test prep!). Uh!!!!!

  39. The great thing about studies is that you can always find one to support your point of view. My 15 years of teaching experience however, has show over and over again that kids who are exposed to an intensive academic program in their elementary years are significantly further ahead of those kids who are not. I am not saying that this is right because there are many other shortcomings associated with these kids but they ARE more academically capable.

    The question we should be asking is why we want to do this to our kids. What we sacrifice for academic success is physical, social and in some cases psychological health. We need to lose the notion that academia is the ultimate goal of our education system.

  40. I have been fighting homework since the very beginning! I hate it. I hate it. I hate it. It takes away from free time, play time, relaxin’ time, and times when *I* would like to teach something. I have often thought about just marching in to my kid’s teacher and telling her, “My child will not be turning in homework anymore and you are not allowed to keep her from recess because of it!” (Yes, the punishment for not turning in homework is no recess!)

    I wish I had more parents at the school behind me on this. It would sure help to not be considered to be the lone lunatic!

  41. I would rather have hot knitting needles under the fingernails than have to get my second grader to do his homework. It’s only 10 minutes tops, but a lot of it is stupid busy work, he knows it is, I know it is, and yet, it has to be done. I make him do it – he needs to learn that he doesn’t get to choose everything in life. But it still sucks.

  42. KRispin,

    While one can sometimes find a study to support a pre-conceived notion, one can also look at the research as a whole to help one understand the positives and negatives of educational strategies. Have you found research that actually supports the notion that kids who lose out on play time are ahead academically? The secondary question is, of course, what does “being ahead academically” really mean? Did the kids learn skills that will truly help them in future careers, family life, hobbies, etc…?

  43. It’s not just limiting playground time, it’s limiting what they can do ON the playground too. My children are no longer allowed to run. Or play tag. Or play touch football. Or NON-touch football. God forbid someone get scratched or bruised.

    And the media wants to complain about obesity in children, yet they’re not allowed to play dodgeball lest Sally not get picked for her team, or Billy gets a widdle sore? Let the kids be kids, and I’ll bet everyone will be healthier in no time.

  44. I fight with my daughter constantly about homework. It truly isn’t good for our relationship. Now that she is in middle school I see more value in it and also the fact that she didn’t bother to do any math homework for 6 weeks is earning her a big fat D on this report card so I think she needs to do it.

    My main problem was artsy craftsy projects in elementary school. They were not her strong suit and I felt it was totally useless to make her make put together these crappy things on poster board. I’m no good at them either and even if I did the entire thing for her it would still look like a slightly backward 5 year old had done it.

    I hate the fights and don’t no who is more at fault, the school system or my daughter.

  45. This is exactly why I began homeschooling my two children! My daughter had homework every night in kindergarten. What could a five-year-old possibly need to learn that cannot be taught completely in a all-day class? Even with all that homework she couldn’t read by the end of the year. I bought Phonics Pathways and had her reading in two weeks with only doing 5 minute lessons each day. Now my children do about 2 hours of schoolwork in the morning and play the rest of the day. They are happy, confident children who can amuse themselves for hours. My other big problem with homework is that it takes away from family time. They are gone all day and then you have to sit them down at the table for 1-2 hours. I HATE HOMEWORK!

  46. I’ve not researched the topic, but I wonder if the prevalence of ADHD is as much the result of better diagnostic tools as it is lifestyle changes. Reducing free play time and adding academic time for children is akin to working overtime daily and going into the office on weekends for adults. Eventually something gives, and we’d all go stir crazy and take mental vacations under those circumstances.

  47. To Micetoneetyou:

    There has been research done and a lot of cases of ADD and ADHD went away when the child began homeschooling. They had more time to move around and the parents could arrange lessons to fit that child’s learning style. They didn’t need medication or behavioral therapy, they needed to be kids!

    Another great book on this subject is “The Homework Myth”. I cannot think of the author right now but I took it out of the library, it was fascinating.

  48. Marvin, if you would like to get into a show me yours and I will show you mine battle I am willing to go there but I don’t think this is necessary in an opinion based forum such as this.

    My issue with studies is that they rarely reflect reality. Certainly they have grains of truth within but they do not state fact. Until practise is applied they are not worth the paper they are written on. The other issue I have with studies is that they are frequently the foundation by which bad decisions about education are made. Politicians frequently do this and as a result, the education system is in a shambles in the Unites States.

    One of my colleagues has a great saying, “The further away from the classroom a decision about education is made, the worse the decision is.”

    I would be willing to guarantee that your children’s teachers who are heaping on homework because of a decision made far away from the classroom not because it is pedagogically sound or is in the best interest of the child.

    JMHO

  49. I see many teachers said they do not give a lot of work to take home. They said most work they give kids could be completed in school. My question is: when do the kids do these works at school? Elem school kids have several minutes between classes and maybe 15 to 20 min before or after lunch for recess. Do kids do school work during these times? Or should the work be done IN class? Then how much time does that take away from the instruction time?

    I have taken the easy way out– I homeschool our kids. But I do often ask these questions about schools and recess and school/ homework. Schools are not making a lot of sense nowadays. I think our gov should leave education to educators and stop inventing all kinds of policies to mess things up.

  50. My daughter is lucky in that her school still gives 2 recesses, but she also gets homework 4 nights a week and is in first grade. I don’t mind the reading so much, especially since she likes to do more than what they request.

    But most days she really needs more play time more than she needs study time. She’s very active and social, and the homework makes it hard for her to have enough time with her friends. If she has as much time as she wants, the homework is going to be rushed.

    She’s a bit unfocused at school, but we’re talking about a 6 year old here. Her teacher contacted me a couple months ago about what to do with unfinished classwork. One suggestion was to take her recess away to work on it, but I really didn’t like that idea. Kids need to get outside and I know she behaves better if she’s had time to play. I asked for it to be sent home instead. I don’t like adding to her homework, but asking for classwork to be finished is not unreasonable.

  51. Oh finally! I’ve been preaching this since forever! It’s nice that this is finally getting attention! It’s a shame that it took this long for people to begin to understand. Perhaps there’s hope for future generations after all…

  52. My girlfriend is a 4th grade teacher and I had her read this posting. Her only comment was that with the “new breed” of kids if they did not have homework they probably wouldn’t go outside to play, they would sit and play video games or watch TV. Her logic is that if they are going to sit inside all afternoon/night they might as well learn a little something. For the most part her homework assignments are continuations of in-class assignments that were not completed. She says that the homework assigned to her kids should not take more than 30 minutes or so, just enough to teach them a little responsibility.

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