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Part Six: Under Attack: The Current State of Recess
posted by: Melissa | October 23, 2019, 05:00 AM   


Today we present the sixth installment in our blog series, Shrinking Recess. In today’s installment, look at the current state of recess in our schools. As always, you can read the entire series at Muddy Smiles..

When we picture the school day, recess is the comma that sits happily in the middle of the sentence. It breaks up the day, letting our kids refocus their energy, stretch their legs and fulfill their natural urge to socialize with their friends. In this ideal world, they go back to class refreshed and ready to learn, yet this picture can be very different from reality.


What’s Happening to Recess?

Fully unstructured recess time is only legally mandatory in seven states. Although it’s been the unspoken standard of educators for many decades, in many cases, efforts to reduce and eliminate recess are technically legal. That’s why it’s so important that we speak up and fight back against this ill-conceived policy.

Why would schools want to reduce recess, you might wonder? In one disturbing example, no less than 23 Orange County, Florida elementary schools drastically minimized or eliminated recess time in order to maximize the time kids could spend in the classroom prepping for tests. From the parental perspective, it’s absolutely crushing to hear that these kids are having essential unstructured playtime taken away in favor of stressful Common Core test prep.

Over the past few decades, the number of schools who have eliminated recess out of fear of injuries and lawsuits rather than providing a safe area for kids to play has also increased. Additionally, taking away recess as a punishment for bad behavior is still exceptionally common. Childhood behavioral issues often stem from issues with social and emotional development or mental health, and when we consider the positive effects recess has in all these areas, the archaic nature of this punishment reveals itself.

Recess Duration and Frequency

Some schools seem to feel that by reducing recess time rather than taking it away outright, they’re doing kids a favor. Sadly for our children, that’s far from true. It’s noteworthy that this phenomenon is largely American in origin. Many countries around the world continue to prioritize and emphasize recess as an essential part of the childhood learning process. A glance at the numbers is very telling. America falls short of many other countries, providing elementary school aged children with an average of 27 minutes of daily recess. Wondering what recess looks like around the world?

  • Finland: Children are given an average of 75 minutes of free play during the school day.
  • China: Children have a morning exercise break for recess, where they are coached through stretching and running. They’re also given opportunities to “exercise” their eyes to music.
  • Japan: Children are given breaks between 10 – 15 minutes for every hour of classroom time as well as a longer free play period.

The Fight Back has Begun: Get on Board!

If the research you’ve seen here has both shocked and inspired you, you’re not alone. As some school districts continue to fervently pursue the replacement or elimination of recess, outraged parents are speaking out. Many believe that legislation establishing the need for recess and protecting and demanding recess time for children is long overdue. When it comes to the laws governing education, the need for unstructured break times is a chasm-sized oversight, and as parents, it’s up to us to let our school districts and administrative officials know what we think of recess reductions and bans.

Whether or not your community schools are directly considering reducing or eliminating recess, it’s never too soon to advocate for its importance. School board and PTA meetings are great places to voice your knowledge on why opportunities to play are important for out kids and shouldn’t be taken away as punishment or swapped out to keep them grinding study sheets for a standardized test. If you need help finding your voice, the American Association for the Child’s Right to Play has recess advocates available in almost all of the 50 states who can speak eloquently on the science-proven benefits of recess.

The health and happiness of our children are our ultimate goals as parents. If we know that recess has the capacity to powerfully change their educational life for the better but we refuse to advocate for it, we are doing a tremendous disservice to our kids. They need to play, and reducing or eliminating recess for any reason – behavioral, academic or otherwise – is detrimental to our kids. We hope that you’ll join us in continuing to speak out about the benefits of this crucial aspect of our children’s academic lives.

This was a conclusion of a multipart series where we released one installment each week. You can read part five, the previous installment here.

Arthur is a writer, researcher, and father with a keen interest in the science behind play. As chief editor for Muddy Smiles, he advocates for (loads) more unstructured play within education and at home.

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