Over the last 25 years, schools and principals have been cutting recess for elementary school children hoping that with more time in the classroom, children would be able to learn more, and we could make up for their educational deficits with more indoor chair time. Programs like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have made clear how much we want to give our kids a superb education and have them keep up with kids globally as well as locally. But are we moving in the right direction by taking away “breaktimes” in which children play outdoors, get sunshine, and play freely with their peers in less structured environments?

Many educators feel clear that we are moving very much in the wrong direction and have the studies to back up their opinions. Richard Louv’s 2008 book Last Child in the Woods alerted people to the fact that all children benefit from outdoor play and learning, as he presented evidence of a dramatic drop in the amount of time that children in the United States spend outdoors He quotes several studies that found time spent “in nature” improves a child’s attention, even in children with ADHD. More recently, a 2013 study found that children in states with the most sunshine have lower rates of ADHD. And, on a different front, another 2013 study found that elementary school children who were assigned to a special program that encouraged them to go outside during recess for a school year were much less likely to become nearsighted.

Diane Cargile, the President of the National Association of Elementary School Principals, has written an article extolling the advantages of recess to good learning. In Finland, which has some of the best education statistics in the world, children are regularly given 15 minute breaks after every lesson, and encouraged to play outside even when it’s freezing cold.

For more information on what Finnish schools are doing right, see this special report.

These studies powerfully showcase the effects of daylight on our childhood development, but light exposure is just as important to regulating adults’ circadian rhythms. To learn more about SunSprite’s own work with tracking bright light, head over to [our YouTube channel]. And afterwards, take a walk in the sunshine!