Lawmakers requiring more recess in schools

A small but growing number of states are requiring school districts to provide recess.

Pending legislation in Massachusetts would require schools to provide at least 20 minutes of daily recess in K5.

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In Florida and Rhode Island, recess laws took effect this year. Four other states already require it, and 11 others officially recommend it. Meanwhile, eight other states mandate “general activity” ranging from 30 minutes daily to 600 minutes monthly.

Sidebar: States that require recess, states that require general and physical activity

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found in its review of 50 studies that movement and exercise have a positive association with academics.

“More schools adopt recess because parents are demanding it for their children” says LaDonna Atkins, president of the U.S. affiliate of the International Play Association, which promotes play as a fundamental right.

“Parents are concerned when recess gets taken away for behavioral or homework-related reasons, and normally those children need these breaks the most.”

Play time

Many schools offering recess provide 15 to 25 minutes of unstructured play daily, says Mark Rothschild, founder and CEO of Right at School, a company that provides recess and after-school services. Additionally, some districts, including Chicago Public Schools, are hiring recess coaches to relieve teachers from supervising recess.

“Coaches trained in experiential activities engage with children and then back off once the games are underway” says Rothschild. “This provides a more productive recess, which translates to fewer behavioral problems and to students who are ready to get back and learn.”

Chicago Public Schools provides 20 minutes of daily recess for elementary school students up to grade 5, as per state law.

“School leaders have told us that since the policy was enacted, students are happier and more focused when they return from recess” says Tarrah DeClemente, manager of health promotion at Chicago Public Schools. Districts struggling with implementing recess should provide schools with sample schedules to ease the transition, says DeClemente.

To make room for recess, principals can take minutes from non-instruction time, such as when students change classrooms, walk to the lunchroom or get ready to go outside. “In a day, there are definitely 20 minutes that can be collected so that students can enjoy daily recess” says DeClemente.

As far as supervision, schools can hire recess coaches or rotate staff, adds Atkins. “Recess is just as important as math, science and other curricular courses” she says.

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