U.S. school children need less work, more play: study

CHICAGO (Reuters) - All work and no play may be a hazard for some U.S. school children.

Researchers reported on Monday that a growing trend of curbing free time at school may lead to unruly classrooms and rob youngsters of needed exercise and an important chance to socialize.

A look at more than 10,000 children aged 8 and 9 found better classroom behavior among those who had at least a 15-minute break during the school day compared to those who did not, Dr. Romina Barros and colleagues at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York reported.

The behavior assessments were general in nature and not made at any particular time of the school day, their report said.

“The available research suggests that recess may play an important role in the learning, social development, and health of children in elementary school,” the research team said in a study published in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

But today many children get less free time and fewer physical outlets at school “because many school districts responded to the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 by reducing time committed to recess, the creative arts, and even physical education in an effort to focus on reading and mathematics,” they added.

The researchers also found that children not getting recess were more likely to be black, from poor families and attending public schools in large cities.

“This raises concern in light of evidence that many children from disadvantaged backgrounds are not free to roam their neighborhoods or even their own yards unless they are accompanied by adults,” the team said. “For many of these children, recess periods may be the only opportunity for them to practice their social skills with other children.”

Barros told Reuters that previously published research indicates that poor children often are deprived of recess because “those schools are located in very violent neighborhoods, and there is the concern that children may get exposed to fights or gun shooting while in recess.”

In addition, she said, such schools are often overcrowded, with space designated for recess or physical activity turned into classrooms.

The study also said the growing problem of childhood obesity needs to be addressed by more activity, especially at school where children spend so much of their day.

One earlier study found that free time has shrunk for U.S. children in and out of school since the 1970s, the report said. At the same time most elementary schools in Asia provide a 10-minute break after every 40 to 50 minutes of instruction, it added.

Editing by Andrew Stern and Eric Walsh