Too Much, Too Little, Too Late

This afternoon on our local public radio station, KUOW, there was a piece on the disparity of recess time found among Seattle Public Schools. The reporters found that the schools with lower income families generally received less time for recess. Schools ranged from having one 15 minute recess a day to having an hour of recess a day. It’s clear from the callers that opinions about recess lie all over the map, yet several key themes emerged.

Kids Need to Move

This is consistent with John Medina’s Brain Rule #1: Exercise Boosts Brain Power. It is also important for health and related obesity issues that kids move around. Given that many schools also have reduced their PE times during the week, recess becomes very important for this reason. As for movement, that should also be part of the way kids learn inside the classroom, but it isn’t the same as recess.

Kids Need Unstructured Playtime

According to Daniel Pink in his book A Whole New Mind, play is important for developing creative and innovative problem solving skills. It also fosters many of Medina’s Brain Rules: Exercise, Attention, Stress, Sensory Integration, and Exploration just to name a few. Click here for my earlier post on play. This unstructured playtime has a double edged sword. As talked about in the radio piece, recess can be stressful for many kids trying to negotiate what to do, or how to be included in an activity. As mentioned by one listener, it’s often in the line-up at the end of recess that children end up in conflicts.

Two things become important here: Adult Supervision and Social Skills. It isn’t good enough for the adult to take a post awaiting an emergency. Like a lifeguard, they need to scan the recess play area and act on things that don’t look right. While it is important for children to have unstructured playtime, I do believe that teachers need to teach social skills in the classroom and check in to see that all is going well. Of course there was this article in the NYTimes about two months ago about a school in Newark that went to a very structured recess.

There Isn’t Enough Time

Depending on the point of view, some thought cramming more math or reading in the school day was more important than recess. I think this is where we need to get creative with our schedules. I feel fortunate to work at a school that offers three recesses a day as well as PE everyday to kids. However, this past school year, I found it silly that the children would come back from PE to have a quick snack, only to return back outside for a 15 minute recess. We’re already looking at changes for next year.

We’re never going to please everybody all the time, but as long as we are mindful of why we do what we do rather than because it fits neatly into a box, kids will learn and grow.

Completely unrelated to this post, other than the title, here’s a video of the late 70s hit by Johnny Mathis and Deniece Williams.

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