As finals draw near, stress increases as students do their best to prepare for their end-of-the-year exams. Not all stress is bad, and up to a certain point, it can be beneficial, driving a person to do their best. But once stress levels reach a certain threshold, performance and productivity begin to drastically decrease.
Often times, especially while preparing for finals, the stress that once motivated students can be overwhelming and cause a decline in health, both physical and mental, and in academic and athletic success. Arguably, there is nothing schools can do about this increase in stress unless there’s an alternative to exams and letter grades. But there are things schools can do to help their students lead healthier, more successful, and less stressful lives. One fairly simple strategy is something many people haven’t thought of since elementary school–recess.
Research has shown that breaks from tasks can increase and improve focus on that objective for greater periods of time. Your brain stops recognizing certain stimuli if they don’t change for long enough. This can be anything from the smell of your home you’ve lived in for years to the history notes you’ve been studying for an hour. While you can still make yourself pay attention to a task, your brain reads it as a constant after a while and no longer gives detailed information about the task, meaning it’s much easier to lose focus and much less productive.
Recess also provides students the chance for personal and social development. At school, so much of students’ time is structured, which can be good, but also can keep students from learning to manage their own time and explore the things that they personally enjoy. Recess can serve as a time for students to study or to look into something they’re interested in, or to hang out with friends, or just to take a nap and be fresh for the next period. Like Uni Period at Uni, a recess can simply be a free period for all students, it doesn’t have to mean going out to a playground.
Some claim that passing periods are enough of a break for students to refocus, but they are less than satisfactory. According to national statistics, students at secular public high schools each spend 6.8 hours in class a day. If the day is split into halves with 3.4 hours before lunch and the remaining 3.4 after lunch, four periods before lunch and four after, you have three breaks, around five minutes each, every fifty minutes. And because the main objective in a passing period is to get to the next class, it’s not much of a brain break. Also, research has shown that strong social connections also boost productivity. A recess where students have time to bond with their friends and classmates can help students in the classroom as well. Recesses should also provide a time where students don’t feel as if they are rushing to get something done or rushing to the next task, as taking mindful breaks is linked with increased creativity and empathy.
If teachers and administrators want more productive, attentive, and successful students in schools, instead of pushing for more time in the classroom, they should take a recess and allow their students to flourish academically, socially, and mentally.