Recess or Arts Education?

Even though a number of recent studies (including research published in 2009 in Pediatrics) has shown that many children learn better when some free time is part of their school day, recess  has become an endangered species in schools across the US. Seeking to pack in more instructional time and prepare students for all-important standardized tests, schools have minimized the minutes allotted to recess or even eliminated it.

As an elementary school student in the suburbs outside of Oakland, Califronia in the 1970′s, I remember having two 20-minute recess periods, one in the morning and another in the afternoon, as well as a half-hour at lunch. But so much time allotted to recess is now unheard-of. At some highly-rated public elementary schools in New York City, students are foregoing recess, in order to have time for something else that’s too often been sacrificed in the name of more instructional time, the arts. Both parents and educators are viewing recess as better, and even best, spent on enrichment classes in areas that have not fared well due to budget cuts.

The PTA at P.S. 188 raised over $12,000 to to support voluntary lunchtime clubs in the arts, music and computers. The principal, Janet Caraisco, herself runs “several book clubs and a music theater club.” A class at P.S. 188 can have 32 students, so the lunchtime clubs give students a chance to learn in a setting with fewer students, and with those with similar interests. To make sure that students’ participation is voluntary, the paperwork to join the lunch clubs is not sent home.

Students at some schools have the chance to take dance or design video games.

… at P.S. 290, lunch clubs allow students to learn improvisational performance, make comic books, learn sign language and knit.

And at P.S. 372 in Brooklyn, an arts-focused school where special education students learn alongside other students, fourth- and fifth-grade lunch club members can choose from an array including mosaic designing, mural making and embroidery. The school also offers chorus and dance.

Parents say lunchtime clubs give children a chance to learn in a setting more intimate than the typical classroom, and lets them spend time with like-minded students. “They’re coming from these classrooms of 30 kids,” said Nick Gottlieb, PTA co-president at P.S. 3 in Greenwich Village, where educators run a popular lunchtime program that pairs students with adult volunteers, who read and discuss books with them. “It’s quiet, individualized time,” Mr. Gottlieb said.

One student interviewed noted that she’d rather have more time to use the computer, especially on cold winter days.

The loss of arts and music education due to budget cuts has certainly been unfortunate. To be quite honest, if I was an elementary school student at one of those schools, I would far rather join a lunchtime club in any of the subjects offered; recess and the playground are not easy for every child to navigate. On the other hand, getting outside and moving and running around — “down time” — can definitely aid learning, as has become very apparent to me in raising my teenage son Charlie, who’s autistic and thrives on physical activity to refocus and calm down. I teach college students in 1 hour, 15 minutes, class periods and often feel that having them get out of their seats and just move around a bit would help their learning. Whoever said that all work and no play made Jack (and Jill) a dull boy (and girl), was on to something.

Should recess time be used for instruction in extracurriculars?


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Photo by Lee Fenner


Quanta Kiran
Quanta Kiran6 years ago


Sandy Erickson
Sandy Erickson6 years ago

Kids should have art and recess. Recess is to help build social skills. Ate is need to expand the mind.

Sarah Metcalf
Sarah M6 years ago

There shouldn't have to be a choice between the two, kids need both.

Dolores D.
De D6 years ago

Kids need recess has much as they need arts instruction

Gloria H.
Gloria H6 years ago

I used to open my library for kids to come in at recess. Some of them would get bullied once on school grounds. It wasn't art, or anything educational, but the kids could watch filmstrips, do puzzles, talk to me, each other. A place of safety.

Jake Cohen
Jake Cohen6 years ago

No! At my school, we were forced to do band chorus or orchestra. I'm sorry, but some kids dislike music!

Amanda M.
Amanda M6 years ago

What's truly ridiculous is that we have to CHOOSE one or the other! Kids need BOTH in order to be well-rounded AND able to focus in school!

Granted, there should be other options for the student who dreads recess because of totally sucking at sports (I should know; I was always the poor schmuck picked last EVERY STINKIN' TIME), but to deny recess for the sake of "extras" like art or music is absurd and crazy. Kids need the bouncing-around time, especially with today's highly-charged assembly-line atmosphere of overcrowded classrooms and "one size fits all" approach to school that leaves no wiggle room for the gifted student or the slow learner.

Rosemary Graf
Rosemary Graf6 years ago

I feel that students need a free period & arts. Some how we must change their education to provide both.

Samantha Garlejo
Samantha Garlejo6 years ago

I voted No! because children need both, NOT one or the other.

Shelley B.
Shelley Birnbaum6 years ago

This is just crazy. It shouldn't have to come down to either or. They are both equally important to a child's development.