Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Recess: Where has it gone? (Part 1)

(Photo Credit:  My Special Needs Network)

Having written a paper for school on Childhood obesity, the issue of disappearing recess time has been on my mind.  Of all my memories from elementary school, I remember recess the most.  Playing 4 square, monkey bars, swinging, and just running around like crazy!  Recess wasn't always easy.  Feelings got hurt sometimes, kids were mean sometimes.  However, I believe I learned how to socially navigate, stick up for myself, how to fit in....and when not to fit in.

Do you know how much recess your child gets at school?  I don't...not exactly.  I know they get an after lunch recess and a brief afternoon recess. 

Do you know physical activity time is mandated by state policy?  I didn't.....HERE is California's.    California requires 200 minutes per 10 days of school for elementary age.  Interestingly, they require 400 minutes per 10 days for grades 7-12. If it is a K-8 school, the 200 min rule applies.  Focusing on elementary age students, this amounts to 20 minutes per day.  I'm unclear as to whether or not recess helps meet that requirement.  I was unable to find any Federal guidelines or policies, so this must be set at the state level.

In California, in 2004, the Superintendent O'Connell's Task Force for Childhood Obesity, Type 2 Diabetes, and Cardiovascular Disease met and approved a number of recommendations for schools.  HERE is the full list.  Among them, is the recommendation that elementary children receive a recess (no time designated) for every 120 minutes of classroom instruction.  This is not happening in our local schools. 

Benefits of Recess

Most of us are aware of the long term advantages to physical activity.  Leading an active lifestyle helps ward off altered health states such as high blood pressure, diabetes, joint pain, and metabolic syndrome.  It also helps us maintain a healthy weight.  The benefits go beyond the physical, especially for kids.
Other benefits include:
  • less fidgetiness, more focus.  Especially in kids with ADHD.
  • a chance for the brain to "re-group."  Learning and memory improve when breaks are given.
  • improved attitudes and mood
  • ultimately, improved test scores
  • social skills
  • negotiating skills
  • having recess BEFORE lunch leads to healthier eating and improved afternoon attentiveness
  • children that have lots of activity during the school day tend to continue being active after school
  • teachers feel children are better behaved after plenty of recess time
  • teachers are more likely to get to know individual students while supervising recess 
Seems to me, this makes a sound argument.  However, more and more schools are cutting back recess time in favor of more classroom instruction.  The  focus is increasingly on test scores. Since the No Child Left Behind Act, 20% of school systems  have decreased up to 50 min a week of recess time.  A large study found that on a random school day, 39% of African-American kids did not have recess vs. 15% of white kids.  44% of kids living below the poverty line and 17% above the poverty line were declined recess.  These are not reassuring statistics.

Stay tuned for Part 2:  One school's solution....


Jarrett, O. & Waite-Stupiansky, S. (2009).  Recess-It's indispensable.  Young Children,
             64(5), 66-69.

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