When I was a young girl, I couldn’t wait to break away from my elementary class and bolt out the door to the playground three times a day for recess – a morning recess, lunch recess, and afternoon break. Sun, snow, or drizzle, my favorites were four square, basketball, and soccer. Playground childhood bliss under the big blue sky.

Fast forward — the last decade, or more in some cases, hasn’t been too kind to recess and letting kids’ energy rip.

• Liability trumps health: Many schools have cracked down on what could bring them liability during this free time. Play equipment has been removed and running has been restricted.
• Academics-in-a-vacuum brings policy changes: To meet the rigors and school funding requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act and other academic programs, many schools have opted out of recess, much to the detriment of children’s well being.
• Leisure time lost: A University of Maryland study found that in 1981 kids had 57 hours of free time, with much of it outdoors. 20 years later, it has decreased by 10 hours, and much of the outdoor experience has been lost. Remember when your mom would call you inside after playing outdoors? Not the case now. Most children today have only four to seven minutes of unstructured outdoor time.

The tide is turning

Yet, there is good news. Parents and many educators are realizing that a successful child needs unstructured time during the day, including time outdoors. See this mom’s plea for restoring recess in her child’s school as just one example.

There is a growing national movement to restore and champion recess. One case in point, this year is the first in year in three decades for many schools in the Chicago area for kids to get any recess at all. Chicago Public Schools now says that recess is deemed vital to a “child’s physical, social, and academic environment.”

Recess’ benefits
Recess provides these benefits –
• Physical activity and exercise
• Social development and competence
• Stress reduction (especially when there is green-scape in the recess environment, like grass, bushes, and trees)
• Better behavior and focus in the classroom
• More efficient learning due to having it spaced out with breaks
• Improved academic results

Take Action
As this school year begins, take a moment to ask your child’s school what unstructured recess time is available for your young child. How much? Is it truly leisure time? Is your child allowed to run and expend pent up energy through physical activities like sports and unstructured play? Is there green-scape in the recess area?

If you aren’t happy with the answers and feel that recess time could be improved, work with your school and its administration through the school’s parent organization. It’s always better for more voices to be behind any requested policy change. Not only arm yourself with data to support recess but also learn why the school feels pressured to cut or restrain your child’s leisure time.

If the school is concerned about recess chaos, bullying, or other misbehavior during recess, then there are programs and ways to address these issues without nixing recess altogether or increasing teacher stress. Focus on improving problem solving skills for all involved.

Your child’s health and well-being is crucial for learning and for creating a lifestyle that encourages a more balanced approach to life in the years ahead. Let recess be part of that picture.

Photos by Neighborhood Centers.

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