Does Your Child Have Recess Daily?

The natural inclination of children is to explore their world through movement. When I visit my grandchildren, I wake up to an explosion of physical activity, rolling down the couch cushions, jumping off the toy box, or chasing games around the kitchen island. My oldest grandchild is now in all-day kindergarten. I can’t imagine him not having the opportunity to engage in both free and structured play throughout his school day. Research supports the notion that physical activity is associated with learning readiness and cognitive function (Hillman, Erickson, & Hatfield, 2017). Within the school environment, recess is the vehicle for providing children with opportunities for physical activity and is an essential component of a child’s school day.

Teachers, administrators and parents must realize that recess is more than just a break from the classroom. Recess contributes to your child’s normal growth and development and provides them with a well-rounded educational experience. Recess also helps your child by improving their:

  • Cocial skills and behaviors (e.g., cooperation, following rules, problem solving, negotiation, sharing and communication);
  • Classroom engagement (e.g., on-task and fewer discipline issues); and
  • Academic outcomes (e.g., attention, memory).

Recess is defined as a regularly scheduled period within the school day for physical activity and play that is monitored by trained staff or volunteers. It is also is a period of time when students are encouraged to be physically active and engaged with their peers in activities of their choice, at all grade levels, kindergarten through 12th grade.

Your child’s school should be offering a minimum of 20 minutes of recess daily. If this is not happening, learn about the current recess policies and practices at your child’s school and school district. You can also compare your child’s school practices with Strategies for Recess in Schools, a new resource developed CDC and SHAPE America. You can then see if there is an opportunity to get in involved in your child’s recess program and share with the school staff leading recess possible ways to enhance recess at your child’s school.

CDC and SHAPE America developed a set of resources for recess to help schools develop a written recess plan and implement strategies for recess to increase students’ physical activity and improve their academic achievement. These new resources for recess were developed for school staff or school groups (including parents) to provide guidance on recess.

You can help your child’s school enhance recess by using the

A great place to share the importance of recess and these new resources for recess is at a PTA meeting. We need parents to take a stand for creating healthy and active school environments for all students. Be an advocate within your PTA! Tell other parents about how the physical activity afforded by recess prepares children for learning and is a critical part of all children’s school day.

Fran Cleland is the president of SHAPE America – Society of Health and Physical Educators, and a professor in the Department of Kinesiology at West Chester University in West Chester, PA.  Prior to teaching at the college level, Cleland taught K-12 health and physical education in Indiana, Virginia and Oregon.  She is the lead author of the textbook, Developmental Physical Education for All Children-Theory into Practice.

Moms Speak Out for More Recess

The following blog was originally published on SHAPE America. 

Across the country, advocates are calling for schools and school districts to make recess a priority as a way to boost academic performance, improve behavior, enhance emotional well-being, and contribute to physical literacy among students.

Read how two moms have taken on this fight in their school district and learn what steps you can take to get involved.

BARBARA LARRIMORE
Prince William County School District, Virginia

I first noticed a problem when my son started coming home from kindergarten with holes bitten into his collars and shirts. He had never exhibited any nervous behaviors before, but I did not put the pieces together until much later.

When he started first grade, I listened to the teacher say how wonderful it was to have recess at 3:00 in the afternoon. I was horrified, but did nothing because I just assumed this was how schools operate. I thought, what hope do I have to change them?

However, then I discovered that very successful school districts in our area had much better policies on PE and recess, and from that moment forward I have not paused in the pursuit of a more balanced schedule for our elementary school children that takes into account their basic needs as well as their academic needs.

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Barbara Larrimore speaking at school board meeting.

I am currently working on a plan for an agenda item to be voted on by the school board that would allow 30 minutes of recess a day for all grades at the elementary school level.

Here are my tips for other parents who want to advocate for more recess:

  • Talk to other parents. You will be surprised how many people share the same thoughts! Exchange stories and experiences, and form groups to speak at school board meetings.
  • Speak to your school board representatives and your local delegates. They are elected to listen to the wants and needs of their constituents. Find out if there are barriers to overcome or more avenues to explore at the local and state level.
  • Create a way for people to “plug in,” whether it’s a hashtag or Facebook page with a memorable name like “More Recess in PWC” so people can find out more information and sign petitions.

Read more about Barbara Larrimore’s advocacy efforts in her school district.

CHRISTINE DAVIS
Madison School District, Arizona

I organized Madison Parents for Recess (now Arizonans for Recess) last school year when our K-4 school went from two recesses a day to one — and made the kids sit quietly in the library during that one recess on high-heat days in August and September.

When I asked why the students couldn’t go to the gym for recess, school administrators said it was “because the kids would feel free to run around in the gym.” The shock of that answer, indicating a presumption against movement/physical activity, compelled my action, as did a few calls confirming that most large/urban schools in Arizona had gone to one short daily recess, combined with a hurried lunch.

Word of the Facebook group spread quickly and I learned many parents had been wanting to gather around the recess issue. As we began advocating with school and district officials, and ultimately our school board, teachers and administrators (both active and retired) began joining the group, and we started adding stakeholders from the health, education and business sectors.

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Christine Davis (left) advocating at a school board
meeting with her former fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Adams.

Ultimately, we were unsuccessful at the local level last year. Despite the multidisciplinary consensus concerning the benefits of recess, test anxiety still trumps best practices, and it is very hard to restore something once it has been lost. So now we are at the legislature, asserting that local control has been local neglect when it comes to kids and recess. We are also pressing our districts to create robust wellness policies and functioning site-level school wellness committees. It is a multi-layered effort.

My advice to other advocates would be:

  • Use social media to educate and gather parents, educators and health professionals.
  • Use the media and all available policy, administrative and legislative processes to improve school recess.
  • Share the work and be respectful, but bold. Don’t stop. Our kids truly need us here.
  • Feel free to join Arizonans for Recess to share resources.

Read more about how Christine Davis started advocating for recess in her school district.

Michelle Carter is the Senior Program Manager at SHAPE America.