When I think back to my childhood, some of my best school memories happened during recess. We came up with complex Power Rangers scenarios, played house, practice backbends, and made friendship bracelets from embroidery floss. We had kickball tournaments, swooned over JTT on the cover of Tiger Beat, and gossiped about who we hoped would be our next boyfriend / girlfriend. Recess was our chance to be kids and pretend to be more grown up than we really were. Recess was a monumentally important part of our childhoods.
Fast forward to today. Recess time has continued to dwindle so far that some schools in Louisiana have none at all. We’ve forgotten the important life lessons of the playground and replaced them with the pressures of instructional time and standardized tests. We all know that modern public schools are under tremendous pressure to perform well on standardized tests. Funding and resources unfortunately depend on it. Despite all of the evidence, we’ve taken away one of the things our kids really need most. Why are we doing this to our children? Why are we allowing this to happen to our children? As rates of childhood ADHD, anxiety and depression skyrocket, why aren’t we seeking out the most obvious remedy: free play?
The benefits of recess are much more than just physical exertion. Studies have shown that more free play (outside of PE Class) include increased focus, fewer disciplinary problems, better social and conflict resolution skills in addition to the obvious physical health and Vitamin D. Schools that have increased recess have even seen improvements in, you guessed it, test scores. The news was abuzz back in 2016 when several Texas schools decided to increase recess up to 4 times per day. They used a program based out of TCU called The Liink Project. The results were staggering. The children showed improvements in classroom behavioral, listening, respect, empathy, BMI and more. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC both emphasize the importance of recess and free play in school, as well.
Unfortunately, many local public schools in Louisiana have yet to catch on to the importance of recess. Many local schools, including my first grader’s school which I LOVE (and I do mean LOVE) otherwise, have only 15 minutes per day of free play which often includes bathroom break time. This is simply not age appropriate for young elementary children. Louisiana schools already have a reputation for being less than stellar, ranking at or near the bottom of the barrel on most lists. Our state has the 5th highest rate of childhood obesity in the US. The state law currently states that all children should be getting 30 minutes per day of “quality moderate to vigorous physical activity” which includes PE. But a quick review of many school schedules shows this is not happening.
It’s important to note that I know that teachers are not to blame for this failure. Many teachers are just as frustrated as parents about the focus on testing instead of raising well rounded children. The individual schools are often bound by instructional time requirements and forced to make difficult choices about what area to cut. But at what point do we say enough is enough? Our kids are suffering because we can’t do something as simple as count recess as instructional time. Because we treat recess as somehow less important than the other classes they take during the day despite mountains of evidence to the contrary.
So what can you do as a parent? Talk to other parents at your child’s school and bring your concerns to the attention of the school administration. Ask your school board member what can be done on the parish level. Louisiana has an opportunity to move in the right direction on education, and recess would be a great first step.