The Argument Against Recess

Even with plenty of research proving the benefits of recess breaks in children, school officials continue to shorten recess as I showed in my previous post.  What reasons do they offer? Here I will give some of the factors that contribute to the decision to shorten recess or eliminate it altogether in some cases.

Academic Reasons:

  • Eliminating or shortening recess can provide additional time that teachers can use to improve students’ academic performance.
  • Tony Harduar, president of the National Association of Elementary School Principals says, “Principals are in a tough situation.  These administrators know that kids need exercise, but they also feel the sting of legislation aimed at improving test scores and bolstering basic skills.  A principals job can depend on the decision he or she makes.”

Liability Reasons:

  • Outdoor play can lead to injuries in children which may result in a lawsuit.

Safety Reasons:

  • School officials are concerned about strangers’ access to children on school grounds and the shortage of teachers and volunteers to supervise.
  • Administrators are more aware of bullying that takes place on the playground during unsupervised activities.
  • Alejandro Echevarria, Principal of Broadway Elementary School in Newark, N.J., says “I was seeing nosebleeds, busted lips, and students being a danger to themselves and other [during recess].”

I’m not saying that these reasons are not valid, but there are compromises that can be made and solutions available so that recess stays a part of every child’s school day.  Currently, it is up to individual schools and sometimes teachers to determine whether children receive recess or not.  Cutting recess is also used as a typical form of punishment for kids who act out in class, who I believe are the ones who need it the most.  It should not be up to individual opinions about recess, but mandatory in all elementary schools nationwide.  Secretary of Eduation Arne Duncan, please pass a law mandating 45 minutes of recess time in all kindergarten through sixth grade elementary schools.

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How Recess has changed since No Child Left Behind

In the 2001-2002 school year, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) was passed, and the emphasis on accountability in elementary school education increased greatly.  As a result, there have been large shifts in the amount of instructional time spent on each subject and the amount of non-instructional time in elementary schools.  A Center on Education Policy report from February 2008 revealed the following points using 2006-2007 survey data.

  • 58% of school districts reported that since the effect of NCLB, they have increased instructional time for English Language Arts (ELA) at the elementary level.  Districts that have increased time for ELA have done so by an average of 141 minutes per week.
  • 45% of school districts reported that since the effect of NCLB, they have increased instructional time for mathematics at the elementary level.  Districts that have increased time for math have done so by an average of 89 minutes per week.
  • Most districts that increased time for ELA or math also reported substantial cuts in time for other subjects or periods, including social studies, science, art and music, physical education, recess, or lunch.
  • 20% of school districts reported that since the effect of NCLB, they have decreased time for recess, and by an average of 50 minutes per week.
  • Among districts reporting an increase in instructional time for ELA and/or math and decreases for various subjects, the average total time for recess before NCLB was 184 minutes per week, compared with 144 minutes per week after NCLB.  The average decrease for recess was 50 minutes per week, or a 28% loss of time from the pre-NCLB level.

Another alarming fact I discovered is the growing gap in recess equality across school districts.  Children who attend high-minority, high-poverty, or urban schools are far more likely than other children in different locations to get no recess at all.  Check out these statistics from the Center for Public Education 2006 analysis, “Time Out: Is Recess in Danger?”

  • 14% of elementary schools with a minority enrollment of at least 50% do not schedule ANY recess for first graders.
  • 18% of schools with a poverty rate over 75% do not provide ANY recess for first graders.
  • 14% of urban elementary schools do not provide ANY recess for first graders.
  • This trend extends through the sixth grade also: 24% of sixth graders in high-minority schools, 28% in high-poverty schools, and 24% in urban schools do NOT receive recess, compared to 13% of sixth graders overall.

So what do all these statistics mean? It means that due to the pressure on schools to have high standardized test scores even at the elementary age, more time is spent on academics and less time is given to kids for recess and free play.  The average time for recess is 29 minutes per day in elementary school, and the gap across schools is alarming.  I believe that it should be mandatory for ALL elementary schools to have 45 minutes per day of recess.  Arne Duncan, you can make this happen!

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Everyone Deserves a Break

Think back to when you were in elementary school.  What is the first thing that comes to mind?  For me, it’s the time I spent with my friends outside at recess running around, playing games, exploring, playing on the structure, talking, and using our imaginations.  The possibilities were endless.  Now I am in college and enrolled in a dance improvisation class as part of my dance minor.  My teacher, Sean Greene, encourages us to go back to our childhood and play with each other.  He tells us to not think about “dancing” and just move, letting our bodies sculpt our movement without reverting back to the dance technique that we have been trained in for so long.  One class, he mentioned how schools are cutting back recess and how angered he is about this.  A lot of his inspiration for choreography comes from his past, including childhood games that he played at recess.  I immediately began thinking about what will happen to kids when they have no unstructured free time outdoors during school to play and interact with each other.  What will happen to their creativity and imaginations?  Will this affect the future of the arts, including dance?

In 1999, The American Association for the Child’s Right to Play conducted a study of 15,000 school districts and found that nearly 40 percent were either eliminating recess, cutting back on it, or considering one or the other.  This trend has only continued since the passing of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, where schools are focusing more and more on standardized testing, and the educational value of recess has been pushed aside.  In this blog, I will present the argument both for and against recess, and let the evidence do the persuading.  I am calling on Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, to set requirements for recess in elementary schools nationwide.  Recess should be reinstated the way it used to be, with 3 15-min intervals plus lunch for kids to play.  How many times do you take a coffee break in your day?  Kids are sitting in classrooms for approximately 6 hours at a time.  Shouldn’t they have the opportunity to go outside and have breaks also?  I’ll let you decide.

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