I’ve thought long and hard about this week’s blog post. As the nutrition and fitness awareness month continues, I decided to write about another area of our children’s well-being. This is an area that I don’t feel is being properly addressed. This is the need for more recess in our children’s schools. Since the beginning of the ‘no child left behind’ era and the increased state testing our schools have been decreasing the amount of unstructured recess time our children receive. Is more time in the classroom and less time outside actually doing our children justice?
We all sit and talk about the increase in teen suicide, and the terribly bullying epidemic. Have the people in charge ever stopped to think that there might be a connection? Well, we are actually starting to see research to support that theory. So this week I am here to tell you about some of the research, and what the next steps are to start creating change for the better.
What Goes on at Your School??
Some schools, like my children’s, are removing recess as a form of punishment. Do they think that the punishment for off task behavior should be removing the only unstructured play time a child has? Take a child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder for example, this is only time throughout the day this child has to expend energy.
At my sons’ school,the children will be given check marks for poor
behavior and forgotten or incomplete homework. Once the child receives 5 checks they are given a lunch detention which results in a missed recess. When did just giving an F on an assignment become not enough? Do we also need to shame our children during lunch and remove the only time they had to release that excess energy?
“Unstructured play prompts changes in the prefrontal cortex, the critical region of the brain’s executive control center- responsible for regulating emotions, making plans, and solving problems.”
Recess time, is not just play time. For children it is a learning time, a time to learn about their emotions, self-regulation, problem solving, etc. For children like my son’ with ADHD it is a time to learn social skills and release energy so that his focus while in the classroom, can be on the subject at hand. Not his knee bouncing under the desk.
“The opportunity to play and be physically active leads to better mental acuity and socialization skills (Turner team al. 2013; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015). Over the last few years there has been more and more research available on this topic. It is reminding us of the importance of this unstructured time is not only for their physical health, but their mental development as well. Extensive time indoors can lead to increased aggressive behaviors and bullying. Think about how you feel after sitting inside behind a desk all day. Are you not sometimes irritable or perhaps unfriendly? Recess leads to better cognitive development, leadership skills, social and emotional development and maturity. Aren’t these things that we want for our children?
The LiiNK Project
One research project in particular has been going on for two years now, and will continue. It’s known as the LiiNK Project (Let’s Inspire innovation ‘N Kids) which set out to create a pilot program that integrated 4 -15 min recess times throughout the day and introduced a character development curriculum and tested the results.
The results, in my opinion, were astounding! They found that kindergartners that received additional recess have a 27.5-40% decrease in the mean of their off task activities.
First graders have a 4-8.9% decrease in the mean off task activity from the fall to the spring. These first graders went through the program in kindergarten. In year 2 they had immediately began the year at a 20% lower off task behavior than children without the program.
Additionally during the study, a student’s ability to listen and be receptive to information increased by upwards of 20% from fall to spring. When, as well all know, typical behavior is similar to that of cabin fever where the children’s off task behaviors increase, while their listening skills decrease.
Now to be fair this study was conducted on k-2 graders, but keep in mind this is a continuing study. That means the children will continue to be studied as they grow older. And this is not the only study out there, but to me, this information is a good indication of the beneficial effects we could see on older children as well if we decided to implement something like this in more schools. The full abstract outlining the parameters of the study and the results can be found here.
Navigating the Next Steps
So now that we have this information what do we do with it? Well it’s up to us, parents, to take this information and do something useful and impactful. But how do we set about making change within our schools? Well lucky for us a federal legislature is not required. Provided it is in accordance with your state’s constitution, each school district is responsible for its own regulations. This is a WONDERFUL thing. That means you, yes YOU, have the power to change it.
What You Can Do:
- Determine what your school is actually doing
- Speak to teachers in your district to determine if any are open to the idea or have heard about the study and
behaviors of extra recess.
- Determine if there is an advisory committee within your district by contacting the superintendents office. If so
appeal to the advisory committee to gain support of the suggested changes.
- Write an open letter to your school board and ask for time to speak to them and the community at the next
board meeting and appeal for a vote by the board and the community to implement the change.
Education System is Failing our Children
Our country’s educational system is not only failing us, but failing our children. Aren’t you tired of being looked down upon for having “unruly” children, all while the school’s do nothing but create rules that augment the children’s “unruly” behaviors and aggression? Countries such as Finland and Asia have already started seeing the benefits of this increased recess time within their educational systems. In 2015 Finland adopted a requirement that for every 60 minutes of class time the students have 15 minutes of outdoor recess. East Asia requires 10 minutes of recess for every 40 minutes of class time. These countries are ranking in the top 10 for reading, science, and math. The increased recess clearly did not diminish their academic achievements. Some might even argue that it increased it. Don’t you think it’s time we do something like this for our children? I know I’ll be writing some letters this week.