Should Canadian schools have more recess breaks?

In an effort to increase students’ concentration and hopefully academic marks, a small school in rural Alberta has doubled the number of recess breaks.

The Bruderheim school, with 130 students from kindergarten to Grade 6, went from two to four recess breaks in September 2018.

“So that when they’re in the classroom, they’re more self-regulated and they’re more ready to learn,” Principal Paul McKay said.

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The students arrive at 8:25 a.m. and head outside for the first recess at 9:25 a.m. Throughout the day, the students are not sitting in class for longer than one hour.

McKay said he was inspired by the Finnish education system, where every 45 minutes of classroom time must be followed by a 15-minute recess. He got the idea after reading a book by well-known Finnish educator, Pasi Sahlberg.

“In my 20 years of education (in Alberta), this is the first time I’ve seen a model where they’re getting the kids outside four times a day,” McKay said.

“Recesses have ebb and flowed throughout the years, from three to two to long lunch hours. We’ve seen different variations of it, but as far as I know we’re the first school that’s doing this, at least in our division.”

Other schools, such as those part of the LiiNK Project in Texas, have also adopted similar models inspired by Finland, to increase recess and physical activity.

Watch – Feb. 15, 2018: Spring is just over a month away and for some Canadian students it will mark the end of a long winter. The cold Canadian climate can often push recess indoors, but how often depends on where you live. Laurel Gregory explains.

The Need for Recess

The change in Bruderheim comes amid a perceived trend in the opposite direction. Frank Welsh, director of policy with the Canadian Public Health Association, said an increasing emphasis on academic achievement has resulted in more time spent in the classroom.

“All those things that go on in school is important, but it’s equally important to get kids outside to learn things on our own,” Welsh said from Ottawa via Skype.

“The irony is, if you give kids more time outside to play, they’ll do better in school.”

Welsh said physical activity allows students to burn off steam so that when they’re back in the classroom, they’re ready to learn.

Teachers in Bruderheim are already reporting positive results. McKay said attendance rates have gone up by five per cent.

“One of those intangible things that you can’t measure is just a generally happier, healthier student. That’s one of the things that as a principal I take most pride in.”

McKay said the real determiner of success will be the mid-year and end-of-year academic assessments.

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