Tag Archives: recess

Recess Solutions

An article from March 14 in The New York Times titled “Forget Goofing Around: Recess Has a New Boss,” discusses how some elementary schools are adapting recess coaches to lead organized recess games.  Although this helps with the liability and safety concerns of recess that were causing its elimination, there are still some problems.  Dr. Romina M. Barros, an assistant clinical professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx who was an author of a widely cited study on the benefits of recess said it best, that children still benefit most from recess when they are let alone to daydream, solve problems, use their imagination to invent their own games and “be free to do what they choose to do.”

This video, “An In-Depth Look at School Recess,” is a case study of recess at an elementary school in St. Louis, Missouri.  It’s 10 minutes long, but really goes into detail about some of the reasons why school officials are against recess, and what steps can be taken to create a more successful recess for both kids and officials.

In my opinion, recess coaches are a great compromise that schools should adapt in order to keep recess.  A completely structured recess, however, I feel does not take full advantage of what children can gain from free play.  Coaches should lead recess in an organized manner but without forcing all children to participate in one game.  Just as in the video, there should be options that allow children to benefit socially and emotionally from peer interaction.  What do you think?

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Parent’s Reactions to the Issue

So your question at this point might be what do parents think of this issue?  Are they even aware that recess is being shortened? Here’s a news clip from September 2008 about the Spokane Public School District and parents reactions to the shortening of recess.

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10 Quotes

10 further reasons about why playing is essential in children:

“It is in playing, and perhaps only in playing, that the child is free to be creative” -D.W. Winnicott

“Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning….They have to play with what they know to be true in order to find out more, and then they can use what they learn in new forms of play.”  –Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood

“Play is the highest expression of human development in childhood, for it alone is the free expression of what is in a child’s soul.” -Friedrich Frobel, “Father” of modern kindergarten

“Today’s young children are controlled by the expectations, schedules, whims, and rules of adults.  Play in the only time they can take control of their world.”  –Sheila G. Flaxman

“Playing reduces stress, improves life, and increases creativity.  Who doesn’t want that?” –Stevanne Auerbach, Dr. Toy

“It is paradoxical that many educators and parents still differentiate between a time for learning and a time for play without seeing the vital connection between them.”  –Leo Buscaglia, author, educator

“Play permits the child to resolve in symbolic form unsolved problems of the past and to cope directly or symbolically with present concerns. It is also his most significant tool for preparing himself for the future and its tasks.”  –Bruno Bettelheim, child psychologist

“Play can miniaturize a part of the complex world children experience, reduce it to understandable dimensions, manipulate it, and help them understand how it works.”  –Professor Jerome Singer, Yale University

“Without this playing with fantasy, no creative work has ever yet come to birth. The debt we owe to the play of imagination is incalculable.” –Carl Gustav Jung, psychologist, psychiatrist

“Play is the child’s main business in life; through play he learns the skills to survive and finds some pattern in the confusing world into which he was born.”  –Lee  (1977)

Surely you can see, Arne Duncan, that play is vital in children.  Set a mandatory recess policy in elementary schools nationwide.

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Physical Aspect of Recess

My previous post dealt with the cognitive, social and emotional benefits of recess in children.  Here are a few more advantages of recess for both students and teachers.

Physical Benefits:

  • Children who are active during the day are more active after school, whereas children who are sedentary during the day tend to remain sedentary after school (couch potato syndrome.)
  • Studies have shown that unstructured play, specifically outdoor play, encourages physical activity in a unique way.
  • “With soaring obesity rates and increased interest in sedentary activities, a six-hour or longer school day is too long for children to go without breaks or opportunities for substantive physical activity.” -Dolly Lambdin, Ed.D., president of the National Association for Sport & Physical Education.

Classroom Management and Teacher Benefits:

  • Teachers rated children’s behavior as better in classes where children had at least 15 minutes of recess.
  • Teachers get to know the children better when supervising them on the playground.  This knowledge can be useful in developing curriculum and in preventing bullying.
  • Time on the playground is a change of pace for the teacher as well as for the children.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity is a serious health concern for children and adolescents.  Results from the 2007-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey indicate than an estimated 17% of children and adolescents ages 2-19 are obese.

Obesity may lead to the following health problems:

  • Heart disease, caused by:
    • high cholesterol and/or
    • high blood pressure
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Asthma
  • Sleep apnea
  • Social discrimination

Also, obese children and adolescents are more likely to become obese as adults. For example, one study found that approximately 80% of children who were overweight at aged 10–15 years were obese adults at age 25 years.  Another study found that 25% of obese adults were overweight as children.  The latter study also found that if overweight begins before 8 years of age, obesity in adulthood is likely to be more severe.

Now don’t you see why physical activity during recess is essential?  Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, help stop the growing trend of childhood obesity and make sure there is adequate time for outdoor physical activity in the school day.

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The Benefits of Recess in Children

“To the young child, play is life itself. Play fills mind and body, mentality, emotionality, and physical being. A child engrossed in play is inventive, free and happy. Through the variety and depth of play, the child learns and grows. It is serious business; it is his world”~Evans, 1974

You’ve now heard one side of the recess issue, so here is the other side.  The following points all prove that recess is a beneficial part of a child’s school day, and deserves to be mandatory in all elementary schools.

Cognitive Benefits:

  • Children are less fidgety and more on-task when they have recess, and children with ADHD are among those who benefit most.
  • Research on memory and attention shows that recall is improved when learning is spaced out rather than concentrated.  Recess provides breaks during which the brain can “regroup.”
  • Brain research shows a relationship between physical activity and the development of brain connections.
  • A school system that devoted a third of the day to nonacademic activities (art, music, physical activity) improved attitudes and fitness and slightly increased test scores, in spite of spending less time on academics.
  • A child can apply the skills he or she has learned on the playground to classroom lessons and assignments.
  • “I strongly believe you are doing a disservice to students academically if you do not offer them time to unwind.” -Physical Education teacher Suzanne Legge.

Social Benefits:

  • Children improve their social skills at recess by practicing the following actions: sharing with peers, cooperating, communicating with teachers and children, solving problems, respecting playground rules,  and practicing self-discipline.
  • On the playground, children exercise leadership, teach games to one another, take turns, and learn to resolve conflicts.
  • In a free choice situation, children learn negotiation skills in order to keep the play going.
  • On supervised playgrounds, particularly where children are taught games and conflict resolution skills, there is little fighting.
  • “In a well-designed and appropriately supervised recess period, children learn how to cooperate, compete constructively, assume leader/follower roles and resolve conflicts.” -Dolly Lambdin, Ed.D., president of the National Association for Sport & Physical Education.

Emotional Benefits:

  • Recess may act as a stress reliever by allowing children to work off the tensions they have built up during the day and by reducing the anxiety that can be caused by academic pressures.
  • Through play activities, children can learn valuable methods for managing school and family-related stress.
  • Unstructured peer interaction may improve a child’s self-esteem by providing opportunities for children to learn about their own abilities, perseverance, self-direction, responsibility, and self-acceptance. They begin to understand which behaviors result in approval or disapproval from their peers.
  • The school playground provides a venue for children to cultivate friendships and reap the benefits of new relationships.

I hope these benefits have made you more aware of the value of recess and free play in children.  Arne Duncan, please take these points into consideration and mandate 45 minutes of recess time in elementary schools nationwide.

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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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