Kids on the Move: The Benefits of Increasing Children’s Movement and Playtime

There is so much to teach our children these days, that it sometimes seems impossible to carve out time for recess. After all, our children develop academic skills in reading, writing, and math, plus Judaic studies and Hebrew language — part of Beth Tfiloh’s rigorous dual curriculum — how can we possibly find time for running and jumping?  Yet, in Beth Tfiloh’s Lower School, we know that children need to play and move their bodies regularly to learn effectively and to stay healthy and happy.

Beth Tfiloh Lower School students get their school day going with free play time
Beth Tfiloh Lower School students get their school day going with free play time

Beth Tfiloh Lower School students are enjoying more time for play throughout their day this year. Children who arrive at school between 7:30 and 8 a.m. begin their school day with supervised free play time, getting their school day off to an energetic start. And all children are enjoying dramatically longer outdoor recess.

Physical benefits of exercise

According to the Centers for Disease Control, regular physical activity helps children improve their fitness, build strong bones and muscles, control their weight, and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Additionally, a study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation discovered that 42 percent of children in the United States get most of their daily exercise during time spent at recess. Current guidelines recommend that children get at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day to develop cardio and muscle systems. This activity also reduces their risk of obesity, heart disease, and Type 2 diabetes. While physical education classes are excellent sources of learning and exercise; however, time in PE alone is not sufficient exercise for our children. This is why we prioritize recess and play throughout Beth Tfiloh Lower School students’ day.

Cognitive and social benefits of exercise

Beyond the health and fitness benefits of recess, research tells us that children’s learning and focus are improved by physical activity. A study by the California Department of Education found that students who were rated as being fit scored twice as well on academic tests as students who were rated unfit.  Recent studies have shown that increasing physical activity during the school day may boost students’ interest, motivation, reading fluency, and mathematics skills. Time to move about can refocus young brains when attention starts to wander and may also help children who struggle to regulate impulsive behavior.

Movement and play also seem to have a calming effect. Remember the days when children who could not sit still were kept in for recess as a consequence for their restlessness? Yikes! Now, our teachers know that busy bodies perform better in the classroom when they can move around. In addition to recess, BT Lower School teachers incorporate movement and brain breaks throughout the school day. Whether it is walking to a special activity, moving from the circle on the rug to desks, or stand-and-stretch games, children at BT are moving all day long. Our Lower School teachers often tap the resources of GoNoodle which provides hundreds of engaging videos to incorporate both movement and mindfulness in the classrooms.

Developmental benefits of play

Recess also encourages play, a critical developmental activity. This unstructured time allows children to run, climb, swing, and use their outside voices. Play encourages development of social skills such as taking turns and sharing. Unstructured play has multiple benefits — it encourages children to have fun inventing games, which in turn, develops their communication, cooperation, and organization skills; it has also been shown to reduce stress and anxiety. Outdoor play increases levels of vitamin D, which is essential for growing immune systems and bones. Playing outside also engages children with nature and enhances use of their senses. Our Lower School children have the option to play on the Imagination Playground. This playground features huge blue foam blocks that interlock; picture human-sized logs or snap-together plastic blocks.  Students use the blocks to build, create, and design their own play equipment.  Each day, new creative structures evolve limited only by the students’ imagination and creativity.

Beth Tfiloh fourth grade students collaborate to build a Sukkah (a booth for the Sukkot holiday) with Imagination Playground blocks based on their classroom learning of the structure’s requirements.
Beth Tfiloh fourth grade students collaborate to build a Sukkah (a booth for the Sukkot holiday) with Imagination Playground blocks based on their classroom learning of the structure’s requirements.

So, when our children ask, “When is recess?” the answer is, “It is just around the corner!” because we know that young bodies and minds need physical activity to learn, be healthy, and be happy.

See Beth Tfiloh kids in action! Come for the Lower School Group Tour on Thursday, Nov. 7 at 8:45 am and meet our Lower School Administration and tour our state-of-the-art facility. View details and register online:

Dr. Susan Holzman is Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School’s newly-appointed Lower School Principal.  A highly respected educator, Dr. Holzman holds a doctorate in human development and psychology from Harvard University as well as a master’s degree in reading from Harvard.

About Dr. Susan Holzman

One comment

  1. I found it interesting how you mentioned that anxiety and depression can be reduced in children just through physical exercise. My wife and I are considering looking for a family gym because we noticed the other day that we were out of breath trying to play with our kids. It seems sensible for us to contemplate going to a reputable establishment that can help our entire family get in the best physical shape possible.

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