Agitate for everyday recess
Think about this: West Virginia law does not require schools to provide recess. Many children either get no recess or little recess.
Then think about this: One in four fifth-graders have high blood pressure. Nearly one in three are obese. Those numbers come from actual West Virginia University 2012 screenings.
Regular recess – particularly recess that offers fun active games – is one major answer.
One major medical group after another is issuing statements urging states to require regular recess. Nationwide, a 2011 survey of 1,800 elementary schools found about a third were not offering recess to their third grade classes. In several studies, principals said that the demands of the federal No Child Left Behind Act forced them to cut regular recess.
- In January 2013, the American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) warned against the loss of recess and physical activity in children’s school day. Their policy paper, “The crucial role of recess in schools,” was published in the journal Pediatrics. Recess is as important to a child’s development as math or reading are, the AAP stated.
- In May 2013, the prestigious Institute of Medicine piled on with a strong report, “Educating the Student Body,” that urged schools to give kids an hour a day of physical activity (recess, P.E., before-and-after-school activity, classroom breaks, etc.) and to make P.E. a core subject.
- Children who exercise more do better in school, as a whole, they said.
- In 2012, researchers at the University of Chicago reviewed 14 studies that compared kids who get daily physical activity with those who don’t. The studies found that the kids who got exercise did better in school.
Definition: “Physical activity” means more than physical education class. “Maybe it’s an activity break, stand up every half an hour in class and do something. It might mean going to school by bike … Any kind of physical activity you can think of,” Amika Singh, from VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam, told Reuters Health.
Some specific examples of research findings:
- United States second and third graders who got an extra 90 minutes of physical activity per week did better on a test of spelling, reading and math. They also gained less weight during the three years after the study.
- Children who got more than 15 minutes a day or exercise behaved better in class, a 2009 study of 11,000 children found.
- See the 2009 Robert Wood Johnson / Gallup report “The State of Play,” for a more detailed description of these and other research studies.
Still, more than three out of four of principals say their staff takes away recess as punishment for behavior problems or not finishing work, according to “The State of Play.” The American Academy of Pediatricians and Institute of Medicine both call that practice counterproductive. “It’s the kids who have trouble concentrating that need recess more than anybody else, and they are the ones less likely to get it,” says Olga Jarrett, associate early childhood education professor at Georgia State University and leading recess researcher.
“There’s this assumption that if you keep kids working longer, they will learn more,” Jarett said. “It’s misguided.” No research shows test scores go up if children stay in class longer, but much research shows recess benefits children in cognitive, social-emotional, and physical ways, she said.
Research does show that when children have recess, they:
– are less fidgety and more on task – have improved memory and more focused attention
– develop more brain connections – learn negotiation skills – exercise leadership, teach games, take turns, and learn to resolve conflicts – are more physically active before and after school
All these impacts were re-confirmed by a 2013 Stanford University survey of teachers in 22 cities.
What can parents and others do if they want regular recess at their schools?
- Find out if there is a county Board of Education policy requiring recess and, if not, push for one that is enforceable, recommends the National Association of Sports and Physical Education.
- Here’s a toolkit for parents who want to create a campaign in their community for a recess requirement. http://www.peacefulplaygrounds.com/right-to-recess-campaign
- Become familiar with research that shows that children who get more exercise do better academically and behaviorally. Base your argument on that, because that’s how schools are judged, not on the number of children with high blood pressure.
- Offer to help. Sometimes the problem is lack of staff to supervise the playground.
- If there’s no response, gather allies. Go in to talk with the schools in a group. If no response, make a petition. Go to the school board. Do something to raise the issue publicly. http://www.eduguide.org/article/major-education-issues-do-kids-really-need-recess
- Here are stories of parents who made a difference:
- Here’s a column about the need for parents to intervene: http://juliasteiny.com/2012/04/12/parents-must-fight-for-kids-right-to-recess
- Here’s a recess handbook for parent volunteers: http://www.montgomeryschoolsmd.org/schools/woodacreses/LunchRecessHandbook.pdf
- Look at programs like Playworks. West Virginia almost did. In 2012, the state Office of Healthy Schools staff wanted to increase the amount of physical activity in the school day. They negotiated with Playworks, a national program that promotes structured recess (recess which involves every child in moderate exercise play). Playworks agreed to train West Virginia teachers to train others. Eight West Virginia elementary schools agreed to be first. The plan was ready to roll.
- But stimulus money allocated to fund the project was never made available. Then in 2013, the Department of Education budget was cut, and the Office of Healthy Schools was dissolved. We’re going backwards.
Read about the program West Virginia almost tried, but didn’t. www.playworks.org . Here’s a National Public Radio story about it. http://wvpubcast.org/post/trim-recess-some-schools-hold-childs-play
Arm yourself with major research and policy statements, so you can present a good case:
- Recess is as important to children’s development as math or reading is, according to a 2013 policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Read about it at http://healthland.time.com/2012/12/31/yay-for-recess-pediatricians-say-its-as-important-as-math-or-reading
- Here is the actual AAP statement, published in the journal Pediatrics. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/131/1/183.full
- A good discussion of the AAP statement: https://www.acefitness.org/acefit/healthy-living-article/60/3076/american-academy-of-pediatrics-bring-recess/
- An account of the Institute of Medicine report that recommends an hour of physical activity a day: http://www.argusleader.com/viewart/20130701/GETFIT/307010049/Students-need-more-recess-P-E-class-group-says
- Excellent research review and info-packed summary from the Dairy Council: ” The Wellness Impact: Enhancing Academic Success through Healthy School Environments. http://www.genyouthfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/The_Wellness_Impact_Report.pdf
- Recess Facts: When you need a good summary: http://recessfacts.wordpress.com/
- Good research reviews of dozens of studies: http://www.childrennow.org/uploads/documents/bwlw2011_resource4.pdf
- Articles about research that shows exercise is linked to better academic performance and behavior in class.
- A 2009 Pediatrics study of 11,000 children found that children who had more than 15 minutes a day of recess showed better behavior in class. “Sometimes you need data published for people at the educational level to start believing it has an impact,” she said. “We should understand that kids need that break because the brain needs that break,” the lead researcher told the New York Times. Read about it at http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/24/health/24well.html?_r=0
- A study that found that most school districts nationwide don’t require regular PE or recess, despite alarming childhood obesity levels. This 2011 research is published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. A readable description at http://healthland.time.com/2011/12/07/childhood-obesity-most-u-s-schools-dont-require-p-e-class-or-recess/
- Why Kids Need Recess: http://pathwaystofamilywellness.org/Children-s-Health-Wellness/why-kids-need-recess.html
- A related idea: The National Education Association and the WV Office of Child Nutrition recommend recess before lunch, rather than after. Some school districts are requiring 55 minutes for lunch and recess, splitting the time. http://www.nea.org/home/43158.htm and http://www.opi.mt.gov/pdf/SchoolFood/RBL/RBLGeneral.pdf