When adults take a fifteen minute break at work, they tend to come back a bit less stressed and more able to focus on the tasks at hand. It turns out that kids at school can obtain the same benefits from a fifteen minute break. Schools in Finland have already implemented this strategy. They’ve been doing it since the 1960’s.
A typical American public school could include one 30 minute recess per school day. The exact amount of time can vary. Some schools might have recess that lasts for 45 minutes, while others might only allow 20 minutes for recess. In some schools, the 30 minute recess is split into two fifteen minute recess times, several hours apart from each other.
In general, the length and timing of recess in American schools is not based on what’s best for the students. Instead, it is done in an effort to make things “fit”. Only a certain number of students can fit into the cafeteria at one time. Moving them from lunch to recess keeps the traffic flowing. The lunch/recess period is also when many elementary school teachers get their own lunch breaks.
Tim Walker wrote a very interesting article at The Atlantic. It is titled: “How Finland Keeps Kids Focused Through Free Play”. Tim Walker is an American teacher who was teaching in Helsinki, Finland.
He discovered that the schools in Finland do something that is very different from what American schools do. In Finland, it is normal for both students and teachers to take a fifteen minute break after every 45 minutes of instruction. The simply stop the lesson and give the students fifteen minutes to go outside to play and to socialize with their peers.
This system may sound like a lot of time-wasting from an American perspective. In general, teachers in the United States are encouraged to pack as much as they can into a typical school day. Changes would need to be made in order to incorporate the Finnish model.
Tim Walker discovered that his students returned to the classroom “with a bounce in their steps” after a fifteen minute break. Those students were once again ready and able to focus on the lesson. There was something special about the free-play that the students engaged in during a fifteen minute break that caused them to return to the classroom recharged.
In addition, he found that his students, who had a tendency to get overwhelmed and frustrated when they didn’t have breaks, were more relaxed after a fifteen minute break. The Finnish schools send students outside for these breaks, but the same effect could be achieved by giving students fifteen minutes of free-play time every hour in their own classroom.
Image by halfrain on Flickr.
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