Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Work / Play Balance: The Importance of Recess – Montessori Perspectives

work play balance NAMC montessori recess children playing outside

I recently read an alarming article from Michael Conlon of Reuters, entitled, U.S. school children need less work, more play: study. Conlon contends that there is a growing trend in U.S. public schools of reducing free play "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". In addition, there seems to be "fear of lawsuits if children become injured, a concern over children's safety from strangers around school grounds, and a shortage of people to supervise the children during recess" (Johnson) Some school districts are even going so far as to build new facilities that do not have playgrounds.

As Montessorians shake their heads at this sad trend, studies are now showing that there are extreme ramifications. Just as adults need to take periodic breaks away from their work in order to re-focus, so do children. Is there any wonder, then, as to the rise in behavior and attention problems in the classroom? Taking away the outlet of physical activity also contributes to the rising obesity problem facing young children.

It made me glad, once again, that we are followers of Dr. Montessori.

Work / Play Balance: The Importance of Recess – Montessori Perspectives


We know the importance of being outside, and communing with nature. Montessori knew that children were fascinated by nature, and encourages us to take the children out to experience it as often as possible so that they might enjoy and delight in the world around them.

Montessori also believed that children are inherently good, and that “bad” or mis-behavior comes from a poorly prepared environment that is not meeting the needs of that child.

work play balance NAMC montessori recess boy with ladybug

They are merely his reactions to an environment that has become inadequate...But we do not notice that. And since it is understood that the child must do what adults tell him, even though his environment no longer suits his needs, if he does not comply we say that he is "naughty" and correct him. Most of the time we are unaware of the cause of his "naughtiness." Yet the child, by his conduct, proves what we have just said. The closed environment is felt as a constraint, and that is why he no longer wishes to go to school. He prefers to catch frogs or play in the street. These seemingly superficial factors prove that the child needs wider boundaries than heretofore.
—Maria Montessori
From Childhood to Adolescence

Time and time again we've seen that children learn best through experience and when given opportunities for choice, experimentation and problem solving. Learning and problem solving through play and social interactions enhances critical thinking skills. Children learn that in order for a game to continue, certain interpersonal life skills must be developed and practiced: cooperation, taking turns, sharing, teamwork, sportsmanship, and compromise. It also enhances self-control; if I want my friends to play with me, I need to learn to control my temper. It is a safe place to practice conflict resolution, as well.

work play balance NAMC montessori recess children skipping

As a Montessori teacher, I have enjoyed the freedom of being able to observe when my students need a break. Whether it is that first warm day of spring or just a case of extreme restlessness, I can quietly ring the bell and suggest a break. Even a quick fifteen minute break to run around and “get the wiggles out” often provides enough time to re-energize and refocus.

There are numerous studies that prove active students perform better on tasks requiring concentration and have higher achievement scores on tests.


The students are not the only ones who benefit from physical activity breaks during the day. My Montessori students love it when I play with them. I enjoy watching the young ones learn how to catch and throw a ball. I have taught many children to jump rope or play non-competitive games. And all of my students know that when that first warm day of spring comes, Miss Michelle will be the first one to the swing set, challenging them to swing as high as the birds, feeling the warm sun on our faces, giggling as we all delight at the child within us.

Works Cited
Johnson, Dirk. 1998, April 7. Many schools putting an end to child's play. New York Times, p. A1, A16.

Michelle Irinyi — NAMC Tutor & Graduate

As much as possible, NAMC’s web blog reflects the Montessori curriculum as provided in its teacher training programs. We realize and respect that Montessori schools are unique and may vary their schedules and offerings in accordance with the needs of their individual communities. We hope that our readers will find our articles useful and inspiring as a contribution to the global Montessori community.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Wednesday, February 4, 2009.

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