Twenty-four Arkansas schools are giving their kids more time in recess, and the only bad news is that all of them aren’t.
As reported by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Monday, those schools are participating in a pilot program this upcoming school year. In addition to physical education classes, their students up to fourth grade will have 60 minutes of recess daily, while fifth- and sixth-graders will have 45 minutes. In contrast, the state minimum is 40 minutes of P.E. per week plus 90 minutes of additional physical activity, including recess.
Among the participating schools are Marguerite Vann Elementary in Conway, Elmer H. Cook Elementary in Fort Smith, and six elementary schools in North Little Rock.
Recess started increasingly being seen as expendable in the 1990s, and that trend continued after the passage of the federal No Child Left Behind law in 2001. As a result of its emphasis on test scores, letting kids play was seen as a luxury that schools and states couldn’t afford. After all, this is America, where the key to success is working harder not smarter, right?
But kids – and adults – are made to move, not sit all day while data is inputed into their brains like they’re computer hard drives. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says children cognitively process information better when concentrated instruction is followed by unstructured breaks. Recess under adult supervision also teaches children social and emotional skills, and it increases the chance they’ll achieve the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ recommended 60 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous activity. That’s an important goal to reach in a country where nearly one in five American children are obese, which is triple the percentage of the 1970s according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Recess is so important, in fact, that the AAP says it should never be withheld as punishment. Finland, which ranks near the top on international tests, understands the benefits of breaks. Students there study for 45 minutes and then do something else for 15.
By the way, it’s not just children who need breaks from the grind. DeskTime, a company whose software tracks employee productivity, claims its data has shown that the most productive employees take frequent breaks, working 52 minutes and then breaking for 17. As the company explains on its website, it’s better to work intensely for short periods than it is to slog halfheartedly through the day.
The pilot program is the result of Act 1062 passed last year. It was sponsored by two senators with very different views on many issues: Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch, a conservative, small government farmer, and Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, a liberal former teacher.
Under the law, all classroom teachers along with others in participating schools will issue quarterly reports. These will help determine if those 24 schools continue offering expanded recess past this year, and they will influence other schools that might follow their lead. One year might not be enough to radically change test scores or body mass indexes, but teachers will be able to gauge student engagement, energy levels and attention spans. Hopefully, the teachers will take breaks outside too and see improvements of their own. It will be interesting to see not only whether recess is beneficial, but also how to make it more so. The recesses must be unstructured but should be supervised. OK, how much?
Most of those children will know only that they’re getting more time to play. They won't know they’re part of an experiment.
However, until now they’ve been part of a different experiment: one where movement and sunshine are subtracted from a modern young person’s day in order to improve their job performance.
It’s the same experiment we’ve been performing on adults, too. And the results haven’t been good for any of us.
Steve Brawner is a syndicated columnist in Arkansas. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner.