Lately there is a lot of talk about students getting fit after two decades or more of eliminating recess. With obesity, diabetes and ADHD on the rise, adults thought, hmm, maybe there could be a connection with inactivity. The conundrum is how to squeeze physical fitness in because no one wants to let go of a few minutes of precious, all-encompassing test prep.
Even more interesting is that so many confuse PE with recess. PARADE Magazine was guilty of this in their August 11th edition. In that article they cheered recess returning to schools. Students got to run around a little, to get rid of the “wiggles,” before school started (ok maybe that’s recess), but later, their idea of recess, included games set up by the coach. That is PE. It is not recess. Of course that is better than nothing. But it is still not a real break for students stressed out with high-stakes test prep.
Washington DC principals present an interesting example of the problem of lacking student activity. In close proximity of the First Lady and her noble efforts to bring fitness to children, the schools there struggle to appear like they are meeting exercise demands without jeopardizing academics. D.C. parents have also gotten a bit persnickety about the lack of recess, so principals, like many across the country are trying to fit exercise time in but they don’t exactly know how to do it. And they also don’t seem to understand what real recess looks like.
D.C. administrators created an exercise club before school starts and a running club during lunch. I envision students multi-tasking, clutching their sandwiches while running around the track! Then there are “brain breaks” during class! I can’t begin to imagine that is something even mildly close to real recess. Also, how do you really know when a student is taking a brain break?
All of this seems especially ridiculous after I recently watched, amazed, the charter school in NY, described on CBS Sunday Morning. This particular charter is completely dedicated to exercise! Students exercise most of the day! Go on!
I’ve also noticed the new phenomenon of nonprofits or churches getting grants like Fitness Rules!, or Let’s Go Get Fit! Churchy leaders, with grant dollars, go into public schools to teach students how to exercise. They create brochures or booklets that instruct. You have to hand it to churches. They always find a way.
But in this “Got to micromanage everything” world, students really miss out. They are not allowed to think a thought for themselves. They are not trusted to play on their own or go out on a playground and figure out how to live—even for just a few minutes. How much creativity gets stifled? How many valuable social interactions are lost forever?
We all know how important recess is to children and we know what real recess looks like. Bring it back. The world will not end if you give children decent breaks in school to recharge, breaks where they get to choose what they will do outside on a real playground. Make those playgrounds safe and provide plenty of supervision then let the students enjoy. They will be healthier and smarter for it.