If there's one concept that both students and teachers agree upon, it’s the need for some down time during a hectic school day. Students need a few minutes to unwind from everything their young minds have been asked to digest. And as a teacher, you know that a few spare minutes to rest the mind, body and vocal cords are always welcome. But while the benefits of a little down time are many from a physical standpoint, the prevailing teacher within you wonders, "Could this time be better spent teaching and learning?" The answer to this — not surprisingly — is yes!

For example, scheduling class restroom breaks each day can both add structure to the day and allow students some time for recreational reading. Heather Click of Bonham Elementary in El Paso, TX has a great way ensure that each student spends 15—30 minutes reading each day. “I start off each year with two designated restroom breaks for the entire class (morning and afternoon),” she writes. “We all march in line to the nearest facility and I send in the first three boys and girls. While the others wait their turn, I have them read independently. Getting them in the habit is easy if I take a book and model the behavior.”

A second “filler” idea makes constructive use of those anxious minutes prior to the start of recess. Establish a recess “ticket” system — one that must be worked for and correctly completed before leaving class. For instance, the assignment could be to find a synonym for a spelling word. Students would then research and write down a word from the spelling list in their notebooks — along with a second word with similar meaning. Once the task is completed, the teacher will check and collect each ticket and then grant recess permission.

Going forward, the phrase “free time” during the school day should carry a whole new meaning; that time is free for additional learning!