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Effective Classroom Management: The Importance of Recess and Downtime

written by: Margie • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 1/20/2012

This article discusses how recess and downtime contribute to successful classroom management.

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    Most teachers agree that it is hard for students to sit still and pay attention to class work for an entire school day.Students that are given chances to expend some of their energy will be better able to sit in their desks, listen to their teacher, and complete their work.Energy can be spent through recess, physical education (PE), and downtime in the classroom.Teachers can also incorporate lessons in which students are given the opportunity to move around and interact with each other.


    I know that my own classroom management suffers greatly on rainy days when my students have not had an opportunity to go outside, exercise, and interact with their peers in a less stressful environment.One way I remedy this is to take five minute breaks every 30 - 40 minutes.(My lessons are also structured this way; I rarely have a lesson lasting over 30 minutes, so a natural break is provided during this time period.)

    During these 5 minute breaks, my students are allowed out of their desks and to talk freely to their classmates.The rules are no running, no loud talking, and no bullying.If I see even one student engaged in one of these three behaviors, downtime ends immediately.It usually only takes two or three times of ending downtime and then I rarely experience any further problems.

    What I have found is that after my students have had these few minutes to engage with their peers, they start the next lesson refreshed and I have fewer behavior problems than if I had not allowed them a break.However, I would recommend checking with your principal before instituting such a practice in your class.I have an understanding principal who is trusting of her teachers and she likes this idea, but yours may be different.


    You may think that PE classes alone provide enough time for exercise, interaction, and downtime.One study found that no, indeed they do not. The National Association for Sport and Physical Education, recommended PE as well as recess, “with PE providing a "sequential instructional program" related to physical activity and performance and recess providing unstructured play time where children "have choices, develop rules for play...and practice or use skills developed in physical education" (Council for Physical Education and Children, 2001)." Read more about it here.

    If, however, you truly believe that recess takes away too much instructional time, The UNC School of Education has a wonderfully informative article about ways that teachers can use recess to benefit their students and ideas to help you conduct a worthwhile recess time while providing learning opportunities.You can read about it here.

    If you do not believe that recess discourages students’ behavior problems and helps with classroom management, you may want to consider the importance of activity on students’ health.It is common knowledge that physical activity lowers the risk of heart disease, helps prevent obesity and generally improves one’s health overall.When on the playground, while students may choose to just sit and talk, they are obviously more likely to choose physical activity than if they were sitting at their desks inside.

    All in all, children need unstructured time.They need to be able to run around, talk with their friends, and decompress.While they don’t need and shouldn’t be given huge amounts of unstructured time, a small amounts of time during the day can help them pay attention in class, benefit their health, and have a positive effect on your classroom management as well.

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