3 Ways to Make Recess Better

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Recess is where kids learn to deal with other kids. So how do you change what they learn?

When you're locked in a school all day, recess is a major event. Lots of studies suggest that recess isn't just fun (not that fun isn't worth it). Playing outside is healthy, helps kids concentrate and teaches them perhaps the most valuable thing they learn in school: how to get along with other kids. But for the most part, teachers leave recess up to fate.

Perhaps that's why, in a recent study, scientists visited 500 elementary schools in 22 locations to figure out how to make recess better.

I know, that concept rubbed me the wrong way at first. Kids are constantly told what to do; can't they get a few minutes of free time? But these suggestions don't constrict children. In fact, they offer them more opportunities. School is a weird, artificial environment, and perhaps it could use a few tweaks. Like ...

Buddy Benches

Some schools have a "buddy bench." It's a bench where kids who don't have anyone to play with can find other kids looking for buddies. It's not rocket science. It's just a good idea.

"What it illustrates is that solutions don’t have to break the bank," wrote Maureen Healy, an author who writes about children's emotional health (and is psyched about this particular study).

Grown Ups

Who said that a 100 percent kid environment was a good way for children to learn about the world? It's not like the world works that way. So letting adults play with children may not be the worst idea.

"Teachers or assistants can help children recover from losing a game, resolve conflicts amicably, and include others when playing even if they’re different from you," wrote Healy. "Since bullying, in my experience, continues to be the number one problem on the playground, additional involvement by thoughtful adults can help diminish this epidemic across the United States."

Cooperative Games

Lots of children's games are about winners and losers. Tag, wall ball, hot lava and other games make children compete with each other. Which is fun, but there are also a whole bunch of games that teach kids not to compete, but to cooperate.

"For example, I use the board game 'Race to the Treasure' in my office and it’s a “cooperative play game” teaching children how to work together," Healy added.