Originally published in The DASH-NY Newsletter April 2012
By Leonardo Blair
A trend in some schools to eliminate recess to meet increasingly demanding academic schedules is being challenged by new research. Children who engage in daily active recess, says the new data, tend to do better in class and are healthier.
Some advocates in New York are also concerned about the level of physical activity students are getting during recess and the effect it can have on obesity rates. “What we are encouraging schools to do is to make recess active but I think the schools are under such demands it makes it real tough,” said Thomas Hohensee, project coordinator at Bassett Healthcare Network in Cooperstown, NY. “If we got many schools ensuring that students are a lot more active during recess, it would have some effect (on obesity rate),” he said.
More than eight in 10 principals reported in The State of Play: A Gallup Survey of Principals on School Recess, that recess has a positive impact on academic achievement and two-thirds of them say students listen better after recess and are more focused in class. And seven-year-old New York City student, Amadin Collette agrees. He shudders to imagine what his school days would be like if he didn’t get to play at recess.
“If you don’t get a lot of energy out you’re gonna be hype [sic] the whole day,” he said. “I would feel tired if there was no recess.” For Amadin, recess is also more than just releasing energy. During play time, “I learn how to not overreact. I can think better about what I can do and make good choices,” he said.
In Recess Rules, Why the undervalued playtime may be America’s best investment for healthy kids and healthy schools, researchers note that recess represented the single largest opportunity for elementary school children between the first and sixth grades to engage in physical activity during the school day. Schools with more than 50 percent minority enrollment and the lowest income levels are also most likely to have fewer minutes of recess or none at all.
A number of organizations have already taken note across the state and are working to ensure that students are active in schools. Healthi Kids, an initiative of the Finger Lakes Health Systems Agency and an advocate of active recess, successfully pushed for the School District in Rochester to put in place a policy which guarantees at least 20 minutes of daily supervised unstructured recess for students. The new policy is currently being piloted at two schools and will go districtwide in the fall.
PLAYWORKS, a national nonprofit organization that supports learning by providing safe, healthy and inclusive play and physical activity to low-income schools at recess and throughout the entire school, began working to address this problem for a few schools in Brooklyn, New York just over a year ago.
“Principals saw recess as a chaotic time,” said Adeola Whitney, executive director of PLAYWORKS Greater Newark/Greater New York. “Students weren’t getting enough physical activity and that chaos was spilling over in the classroom. We mitigate a lot of that chaos by teaching them conflict resolution and getting them to spend more time on play and physical activity,” she said.
In just one year, they have already started seeing positive results. “I was just at PS 11 last month and both principals and teachers spoke about recess as a much more pleasant time for all and much of what the children are learning is carrying over into the classroom,” said Ms. Whitney.