Academic journal article American Journal of Play

The Outdoor Recess Activities of Children at an Urban School: Longitudinal and Intraperiod Patterns

Academic journal article American Journal of Play

The Outdoor Recess Activities of Children at an Urban School: Longitudinal and Intraperiod Patterns

Article excerpt

Based on a study of 149 parochial-school students enrolled in kindergarten through eighth grade, this article explores children's outdoor recess activities in an urban setting-with a focus on how age, gender, and size of play group influence their outdoor play preferences-and examines changes in children's activity preferences over a single recess period. The majority of the children in the study have African American and Hispanic ethnic heritages and lower-socioeconomic backgrounds. Both boys and girls spent most of recess socializing with their peers, though their play varied by gender and age. Most girls spent the majority of their recess talking and socializing. Older boys engaged in physical, competitive activities such as sports and in larger boy groups. Younger children spent more time chasing each other in boy-girl groupings and in informal activities. Girls interacted with their teachers more than boys. The author argues that these and other findings from the study have applied value, expanding our understanding of how cultural and historical factors have shaped the play of American children and indicating that urban school children of African American and Hispanic heritages are at a greater risk for obesity. Such findings would be useful in shaping school policy regarding the duration of recess breaks, the types of activities that should be encouraged, and the impact the policy might have on children's overall health. Key words: age influences on play activities; cultural influences on play activities; gender influences on play activities; outdoor recess; play references; school recess; time-sampling studies

RECESS AT SCHOOL, like vigorous physical play, receives relatively little attention in the play literature. This lack of attention is interesting in light of the ongoing debate regarding the benefits of recess for children and the movement to abolish recess in school settings. Contemporary works on recess all draw attention to the developmental benefits it provides children (Jarrett 2002; Jarrett and Maxwell 2000; Pellegrini 2005). Some school boards and policy makers, however, have disregarded these findings and chosen to omit recess as part of children's school experiences (Pellegrini and Holmes 2006). One might expect to find more empirical studies on recess to support the benefits of this part of the school day to children. Additional studies are sorely needed as they should help convince policy makers and school administrators to preserve recess as an important part of a child's school experience.

Current existing empirical studies on recess include topics such as the developmental benefits of recess (Patte 2010); the relationship between recess and cognitive performance (Pellegrini and Holmes 2006); the connection between recess and attention (Jarrett et al. 1998; Pellegrini, Huberty, and Jones 1995; Pellegrini and Davies 1993; Holmes, Pellegrini, and Schmidt 2006); and crosscultural comparisons (Blatchford 1993, 1994, 1998; Blatchford and Sumpner 1998). Their findings position outdoor recess as a necessary part of the school day, one that affects children's social, emotional, and cognitive development.

Outdoor school recess typically takes place in a playground setting. Previous studies on outdoor recess address playground design and developmental benefits (e.g., Frost et al. 2004; Waite-Stupiansky and Findlay 2001); children's perceptions of recess (e.g., Jarrett and Duckett-Hedgebeth 2003); and children's playmate and activity preferences (e.g., Jarrett et al. 2001; Lewis and Phillipsen 1998). Recess is one of the few times during the school day when children have the opportunity to socialize with their peers in the absence of adult supervision (Pellegrini 2005). Such interactions help children develop cognitive and social skills related to negotiating conflict and maintaining and sustaining relationships (Jarrett and Duckett-Hedgebeth 2003; Patte 2009; Pellegrini and Holmes 2006).

For example, Jarrett and Duckett-Hedgebeth (2003) focus on how teens interact on the playground and in what types of activities they engage. …

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