Advice from the OT: Why Kids Need Recess and PE for Academic Success

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Editor’s Note:  Last over the past couple of weeks.  week we have been reprinting a series by PediaStaff columnist Loren Shlaes, OTR/L, being featured on Rachel Lynette’s prominent general education blog, Minds in Bloom.  Here is her third installment:  On Why Kids Need Recess and PE for Academic Success.

Guest blogger,  Loren Shlaes is a registered pediatric occupational therapist and regular contributor to the special needs blog at Pediastaff (where this post is also being published). This is the third in a series of post from Loren about how to help students who may be challenged with attention, sensory, or other issues be successful in the classroom. Most likely, you have at least a few students with these challenges every year, but even if you don’t, the information in these posts are relevant to all teachers.

I am SO excited about this post! Loren tells us exactly why why physical activity really is critical for learning! If you teach at one of those schools that is cutting recess and PE, try showing this to your principal!

Recess and Physical Education are Crucial to Academic Success

by Loren Shlaes, OTR/L

Movement is what activates the brain and drives development forward.  For this reason, recess is just as important, if not more important, than anything else in the curriculum. Movement is essential to learning.  For the first six years of a child’s life, his knowledge is based almost entirely  on his physical interactions with his environment.  His understanding of the world is based on his understanding of himself and his body in relation to gravity. Children need to move in order to develop and refine their balance, coordination, visual motor integration, endurance, and core strength, all of which directly affect their ability to function in school.  According to Jean Ayres, the occupation therapist who developed sensory integration therapy, if the brain develops the capacity to perceive, remember, and motor plan, this ability can be applied to towards mastery of all academic and other tasks, regardless of the specific contact.

In other words, preventing a small child from moving and forcing him to sit still for hours on end every day impedes his neurological development, interferes with his health, and impairs his ability to attend and learn.

Exercise and fresh air improve respiration and circulation, which supplies nutrients and oxygen to the brain, making it possible to concentrate.  Exercise also increases the body’s levels of serotonin and dopamine. The importance of having a sufficient supply of these two neurotransmitters during class time cannot be overstated, since they directly affect the ability to function in school and to learn by allowing for cognitive and emotional flexibility and improving sustained attention to task, impulse control, and memory.

If your district has decided that recess and PE are unnecessary, how can you mobilize your colleagues and the PTA to have them reinstated?  Many studies have shown regular exercise boosts students’ IQ’s, and improves report cards and test scores.

Research has also shown that when children have their recess before they eat lunch, they eat more and do better in their classes during the afternoon.

Unfortunately many children are no longer going outside to play at all anymore, spending most of their down time after school and on weekends sitting in front of screens.  Parents must be educated on the importance of making sure children run around and play outside every single day.  When I can convince parents to take their little couch potatoes to the park on the weekends, they are inevitably thrilled and surprised by how well the children sleep on Sunday night, and how cheerful and easy to manage they are on Monday morning.

Never Cancel Recess!

If you are having serious discipline problems in your classroom, and you are canceling recess as a consequence, you must find a different way to handle it.  Your students are acting out because they need to move more, not less!  The classrooms that I have visited over the years that have had the worst discipline problems are the ones in which the teachers either consistently overestimated the amount of time they could reasonably expect the children to sit still, or punished their students by keeping them in during recess.


Featured Authors and Websites:

Loren Shlaes is a pediatric occupational therapist who specializes in sensory integration, handwriting remediation and school related issues. She is also a manual therapist and a certified teacher of the Alexander Technique.  Her informative blog, PediatricOT  won the  ”favorite resource for therapists” poll conducted by   Her writing has been featured on, and she is a regular contributor to the special needs blog at Pediastaff.   She is in private practice in Manhattan.

Rachel Lynette (of Minds in Bloom)   Rachel Lynette is a former GT teacher and is currently the author of Minds in Bloom, a blog devoted to facilitating creative and critical thinking skills in children. She has also written over 100 nonfiction books for children as well as many resources for teachers. You can find her teaching resources in her Teachers Pay Teachers store.




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