Nov 122012
This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Gimme A Break

Dear school teachers and administrators,

I”ve discussed recess and lack thereof in the upper grades at Groton-Dunstable Regional Middle School (GDRMS) in two previous articles, Thoughts on Recess and Whatever Happened to Recess?. Because of the enlightening conversations I had with both Mr. Steve Silverman and Dr. Tony Bent, I understand that there are opposing forces at work here. As Dr. Bent said, “There is a benefit from physical activity and movement. At the same time, schools are under pressure to improve academically and to get kids ready for high school.”

Is there a way we can meet in the middle with a best-of-both-worlds scenario?

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a recent report, “The Association Between School-Based Physical Activity, Including Physical Education, and Academic Performance.” This suggests that providing recess to students on a regular basis may benefit academic behaviors and that teachers can incorporate movement activities and physical activity breaks into the classroom setting that may improve performance and the classroom environment.

Additionally, here is some anecdotal feedback I”ve received from local and worldwide sources, as well as from kids themselves.

One local mom shared, “I agree with your article 100%. I think it is much more important for 7th graders to have a 20-minute break outside to walk around or run around and burn off some energy than to sit for 20 minutes and read. Kids need more physical activity — every study we read says this. I was very disappointed to find out that my 7th grader no longer has any outside time all day.

All kids, even the high schoolers, need some sort of down time and exercise during the day.

Another said, “All kids, even the high schoolers, need some sort of down time and exercise during the day. In Australia, the school day for middle and high school starts around 8:30 a.m., and there is a 20 minute morning recess, a 45 minute lunch (kids go outside as soon as they finish eating), and the school day finishes at 3:30 p.m.”

One of my colleagues told me at her kids” private school in North Carolina, the 5th-8th graders get 23 minutes for lunch and 23 minutes for recess. It is built into the day, every day. The middle school also has gym two times a week for 46 minutes and that is all gym/outside time there is no classroom work for gym. Typically the wellness lessons are special seminars during the school day.

Another Groton mom of an 8th grader wrote, “According to my daughter and her friend, they don’t like not having recess at all. They feel like they are sitting around all day, only moving when changing classrooms and going to the rest room. In Japan, at the school in my mother’s city where my daughter has gone during summer vacation for the past eight years, almost all kids walk to school (two-three miles), gym class is offered every single day (swimming during the summer), as is physical (either indoor or outdoor) recess every morning and after lunch. The school system there really believes in the mind-body connection and the benefit of physical activity toward academic performance.”

According to my daughter and her friend, they don’t like not having recess at all.

From my work teammate India: “Students have school from 7:00 a.m. to noon in some cities and noon to 5:00 p.m. in others. The morning shift is for small kids (up to age 10) and the afternoon shift is for older kids (ages 10 to 17). The interval time given in all the schools is generally 30 minutes. For the morning shift there is a break around 9:00 a.m. and for the afternoon shift it is around 2:00 p.m. This 30 minutes is for lunch; if in case you finish eating you can play during that time. Additionally, there is no hard rule of eating inside, one can go out in the playground benches and eat there too.

Kids get to go out to the playground for physical activities twice in a week; there is a separate period for that. And when a sports event or some other tournament is nearing, we have such period every day, it”s a half-an-hour extra period which is generally the last one.

“This kind of culture is generally followed by all the schools across India and has been for some time. Every school has their own way of dividing the times, but on average, each school devotes a few hours every week into physical activities, either sports, swimming, cycling, or whichever thing interest the child. Nowadays in India, the schools are trying to groom kids as “all rounders”—good in studies and good in physical activities as well.”

I asked a couple of 6th grade boys, “How do you feel about not having recess next year?”

One replied, “Horrible.”

The other agreed, “Me, too. It”s dumb.”

My 7th grader is “bummed out” when he can see 5th and 6th graders outside enjoying recess when he”s walking between the North and South buildings.

His 7th grade friend stated, “It”s boring not having recess. I don”t like it. We’re not active enough.”

“I miss recess,” said an 8th grade girl.

Another 8th grade girl thought if the school offered “physical or outdoor” recess, she and her friends are not sure if they would really have “physical” time. Instead they may end up chatting. Her suggestion is to have gym class every day instead.

According to another 7th grade boy: “I think recess in middle school is needed because most kids do not get enough exercise. Physical education for 176 – 264 minutes in a school week isn’t enough.”

However, this boy also commented that he thinks it”s better to have more time for classwork, and another 7th grade boy said he likes having 20 minutes of reading.

So, what is the solution?

A walk around the school after lunch might be good to keep kids focused in the afternoon.

My 7th grade son suggested, “Maybe the kids who want outdoor recess could go out, and the kids who want to stay in can stay in. The teachers could be divided up to be with either group of kids.”

Perhaps we should not expect the same “playing” behavior as is seen in the younger grades. Maybe it”s either okay to let kids stand around and socialize (which is what a Westford mom of a middle-school girl says happens there), or maybe urge the kids to walk as they socialize, as the Groton mom of a 6th grade girl suggested.

Another mom of a 6th grade girl commented, “A walk around the school after lunch might be good to keep kids focused in the afternoon. I know I always feel better after I walk at lunch.”

Because team time is right after lunch, the time slot is already built into the day. Would you consider offering some structured physical activity options for team time such as “Walk-a-mile Wednesday” or “Free-throw Friday” for those who want it?

Or if there is some reason that makes a physical/outdoor recess option during team time completely impossible, would you think about other ideas to add physical activity to the school day as the CDC report suggests? What about taking a classroom outside (click here for an example of one innovative teacher at Wake Forest University) or adding more physical activity into the classroom (see “Let”s Move In School” or “Action Based Learning”)?

Thank you so much for your consideration.

Caroline B. Poser, mom of three sons (two in G-DRMS and one in Florence Roche Elementary School)

P.S. Fifth and 6th grade teachers, please consider not withholding recess as a behavioral consequence. Kids need to get up and move their bodies and burn off some energy before they can sit still and focus. Keeping them in for recess seems counterproductive. Thank you.

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