”I’d like to sit on the grass,” she confided in a whisper of angelic conspiracy, ” and look for ladybugs.”
But there is no time for such lollygagging. The Atlanta public schools, like many districts across the country, have eliminated recess in elementary schools as a waste of time that would be better spent on academics.
Of all the ridiculous and abusive corporate reform measures that exist today, denying children recess is one of the worst. The loss of recess happened two decades ago.
Dumping recess had everything to do with high-stakes testing and making public schools into dungeons of doom.
The value of recess has been proven time and again. Children who get free play breaks during the school day are healthier. They have less attention difficulties.
Parents and special pro-recess groups have fought for the reinstatement of recess in schools.
State legislators, wanting to appease parents, while staying true to privatization goals, warped the meaning of recess. They turned recess into P.E.
By making recess about physical activity, nonprofits can be set up to contract with schools and school districts to set up privatized, organized physical education. How many P.E. teachers will lose their jobs?
Today, recess, if permitted (some schools still don’t have it), has changed into physical education. But recess is not P.E. Recess is such a simple concept it can’t be privatized.
What is REAL recess?
Real recess provides children 15-20 minute breaks throughout the day to do whatever they want to do, preferably outside in the fresh air.
Children should be observed by adults (preferably teachers), and the playground should be safe.
But if a child wants to stand alone and look up at the clouds, or run in circles like a chicken, and squawk like a duck, they should be permitted to do so.
It is their time.
- Belongs to the child!
- Permits children to play the way they want.
- Is not organized, unless the children make it so.
- Gives children a break from schoolwork.
- Should be 15-20 minutes several times a day.
Recess is not:
- Physical education.
- Brain breaks.
- Playing board games.
- Running laps.
- Sitting on bouncy balls while working.
- Doing push-ups.
- Relay games.
- Computerized exercise.
- Jumping Jacks.
- Fidget spinners.
- Adult directed.
- Playing basketball.
It could be a game, if children choose the activity themselves. The key is that children choose the activity.
The above activities may have their place, but they are not recess. There is no freedom for the child to do as they choose!
For example, sometimes children organize their own kickball or softball game. Maybe they will invite their teacher to join them. Teachers should consider that an honor!
Here’s a 2016 rundown of state mandates concerning exercise in school. In most cases they are talking only about physical activity, not recess. If your state has done something different, let me know.
Connecticut: Mandates elementary schools give students no less than 20 minutes of physical activity.
Indiana: Requires daily physical activity that may include recess.
Missouri: Schools must provide at least one 20 minute period of recess. This may be recess, but one 20 minute period is not enough.
Virginia: Students get recess. However, it is not clear how much recess they get. Virginia was the first state to mandate recess due to the efforts of one parent who fought for recess in public schools.
New Jersey: Passed legislation mandating recess, but it was vetoed by Gov. Christie.
Florida: Passed a mandatory recess bill in 2017, with the exception of charter schools (how sad!) but it could be physical activity—so it’s not really recess. Correction: It is “unstructured” but only 20 minutes and some school districts are trying to take it inside.
Arkansas, Colorado, Tennessee, Iowa, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and Louisiana require schools to have some physical activity, but this is not recess. They are talking about physical education. In Louisiana, getting some exercise only occurs in 8 schools.
Has Education Secretary Betsy DeVos ever mentioned recess and a child’s need for free play during the school day? Has she ever stood up for a child’s most important right in school? Does she know about this issue?
Here is the ideal schedule to incorporate recess into schools.
- Fifteen to thirty minutes of recess upon school arrival.
- Between arrival and lunch, another 15-20 minute recess period.
- During rotating lunch schedule, 15-20 minutes for recess.
- Between lunch and the end of the school day, one more 15-20 minute break.
The loss of recess 20 years ago was a travesty for school children. It’s time the real meaning of recess be upheld and returned to our public schools.
Two excellent books on the recess issue. Notice when they were published. Why is this still an issue?
Susan Ohanian’s What Happened to Recess and Why Are Our Children Struggling in Kindergarten? published in 2002.
Anthony D. Pellegrini Recess. Published in 2005.