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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

A Favorite Subject Returns to Schools: Recess. 06-14

After playtime was dropped amid focus on academic performance, educators now take playground breaks seriously

Kindergarten students take to the playground at Oak Point Elementary, in Oak Point, Texas, where recess went from 30 minutes a day to one hour a day. Photo: Brandon Thibodeaux for The Wall Street Journal Three kindergarten girls looked close to taking a spill as they sat on the high back of a bench on a playground at Oak Point Elementary. Feet away, several administrators looked on, not making a move to stop them because at this school outside of Dallas, playtime is revered.

“As long as they’re safe, we allow kids to be kids,” said Daniel Gallagher, assistant superintendent for educational services in the Little Elm Independent School District.

That’s the mantra in this small school district, where schoolchildren are transitioning from one daily 30-minute recess to one hour a day, taken in four 15-minute increments. School officials say children are better focused with more unstructured breaks and do better in school.

School districts throughout the country are reassessing recess—with some bringing back the pastime or expanding it, citing academic and health benefits.

On Tuesday, the Minneapolis school board is expected to consider moving from a recommended 20 minutes of daily recess to a required 30 minutes daily. And in Florida, parents are hoping the governor will soon sign an education bill that includes a required 20 minutes of daily recess for elementary-school students in traditional public schools.

In the past year, the state of Rhode Island and school districts in Dallas, Portland, the Jefferson Parish Public School System in Louisiana, and Orange County and Manatee County school districts in Florida, are among those to implement a daily-recess requirement.About 21% of school districts required recess daily for elementary-school students in the 2013-2014 school year, according to the latest study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Bridging the Gap Research Program. That’s an increase from 16% of school districts with the requirement in 2006-2007.
It’s a change after years of recess taking a back seat to testable core subjects like math and reading, with a noticeable decline in playtime after the rollout of the now-defunct 2002 No Child Left Behind education law that put more focus on holding schools accountable for academic performance.

The Center on Education Policy, a national research group, found in a 2007 report that 58% of school districts increased time spent teaching English language arts, while 45% increased math time, after the 2002 education law. Meanwhile, 20% of school districts decreased the amount of time spent on recess, at an average of 50-minutes less a week. (The CDC recommends at least 20 minutes of daily recess for elementary-school students.)

Supporters of daily recess often point to a 2013 study by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which says in part that “recess serves as a necessary break from the rigors of concentrated, academic challenges in the classroom.” The study also found that “safe and well-supervised recess offers cognitive, social, emotional, and physical benefits that may not be fully appreciated when a decision is made to diminish it.”

“Recess resets their brain,” said Lowell Strike, superintendent in the Little Elm district, where children have recess as long as the wind chill is at least 13 degrees and the heat index is no higher than 103.

But there has been some pushback. Some school administrators and lawmakers have spoken against state bills to mandate recess, saying it takes away flexibility from schools. This year, the Arizona School Boards Association opposed a bill in the state that would have required 50 minutes of daily recess in elementary schools.

“We are absolutely not against school recess,” said Chris Kotterman, the association’s director of governmental relations. “But when it comes to how the school day should be structured, it should be left up to the local school board. We generally try to keep state policy mandates to a minimum.”
Parents in areas around the country are advocating for daily recess.

Angela Browning is among “recess moms” in Florida pushing for a statewide recess mandate. She said the group has successfully pushed for daily recess in a few Florida school districts, including Orange County Public Schools, where her three children attend school. Ms. Browning said she got active several years ago upon finding out from her children that their school didn’t offer daily recess.

“I was stunned,” she said. “Children learn on the playground—leadership skills, social skills, negotiating skills. With all the testing, recess, along the way, got squeezed out.”

Orange County Public Schools started requiring 20 minutes of recess daily for students in kindergarten through fifth grade in the 2016-17 school year.

Recess requirements are usually decided at the campus level, and to a lesser extent at the district level. Studies have found that a majority of schools offer some type of recess, but not always regularly nor with set timespans—and sometimes in conjunction with school lunch. Those who linger over lunch get less playtime.

The CDC advises against taking recess in conjunction with lunch breaks and physical-education classes, saying that it should be unstructured and on a regular schedule.

In Little Elm, teacher Nicole Beal said she has seen firsthand the benefits of her kindergarten students having recess breaks during the school day.

“Their reading is better, they’re more focused,” she said. “Getting outside, it’s a nice break.”
When the children were asked who likes the extra playtime, every hand shot up.

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