My daughter began attending a Buffalo Public School two years ago. She was in 5th grade and that very same year New York State mandated recess. My daughter came home the day it was announced and was barely able to speak because she was so excited. I cried. Literally. I had just completed a huge playground build at her previous school, and both of my children knew the importance I placed on play and physical activity. This was such an enormous win for districts in NYS.
The first day my daughter was in such deep anticipation of recess that she skipped orchestra practice to see what exciting things this new world would offer. I found out that she skipped and I gave her a somewhat stern lecture on why it wasn’t ok but inwardly I was chuckling and giving her high fives. I had done a good job of instilling in my daughter a strong belief about the necessity of play.
That day she came home despondent. Recess wasn’t all that after all. They had sat in a room while the teacher tried to figure out what to do with them. It was like leaving a hectic job behind and going on a vacation to a remote beach. You get there and have nothing but time and you can’t think of what to do next. The adaptation to a leisurely pace of doing nothing other than taking care of yourself and recharging seems uncomfortable and daunting and almost not worth the adjustment.
They only had twenty minutes but that was enough time to make them all uneasy. How do you fill it? What do you do when your only task is to move around a bit, recharge, and take a much-needed break? Honestly it was sad to me. In our district and I’m guessing in many of yours, we had moved so far away from recess that the sheer notion of it left us utterly confounded.
The grumbling from teachers ensued almost immediately. Where do we have it? Who is going to supervise it? What does recess even mean? What kinds of activities are we supposed to be doing? Then simply, there’s no time for it. I heard all of this and I thought to myself, we have a deep-seated problem on our hands. Kids and teachers were functioning as cogs in a machine with no understanding of how to recharge. Everyone needed to step back, think about the school day in a way they weren’t used to, think outside the box about what really contributes to success in the classroom, and make a change. A healthy change, to which brain breaks, recess, and physical activity were integrated into each and every day.
As a parent I tried to help. I drafted an outline as to how we could create loosely structured playtime for the students. I recommended they survey the kids and find out what their idea of recess was. From that information I came up with the idea of creating a simple recess box filled with hula-hoops, chess sets, chalk, jacks sets, balls, art supplies, and books. These were all items that the kids associated with down time, play, and relaxation. Some were interested in the classic mum ball and even more were interested in Just Dance. One day my daughter told me that a classmate was so enthused while participating in Just Dance that he split his pants wide open. This seemed a minor complication from the incorporation of recess.
A lot of studies have been done that prove the importance of physical activity and the direct correlation to positive outcomes in the classroom. There are also findings that show that if a child’s schedule is changed to where they participate in a Phys Ed class one period prior to a class in which they struggle, they will improve markedly in that difficult class. At a workshop I attended we were told of a school that struggled with math scores. They changed schedules around and found that the students made up a year’s worth of material because of this change. Perhaps it wasn’t the easiest change to make but I am sure the positive end result far outweighed the difficulty of implementation. I have also heard of teachers who allow for brain breaks, little bursts of activity that the class partakes in for 1-2 minutes before each class. My younger daughter’s teacher uses the web site, go noodle daily to help the kids “get the wiggles out” and stimulate their brains. Regardless of age these breaks are important and there are lots of different activities to do.
The other day I attended a board meeting where I was asked to speak about the importance of recess and physical activity in our schools. But our district was already a glowing example of what’s being done right with recess and physical education, right? Wrong. There is something called “state mandated” and then there is something called being “in compliance”. Unfortunately in our district the majority of administrators have chosen the path of noncompliance. In the link below you can see NYS requirements. It might not be a bad idea to look into your state’s requirements and see if your district is meeting them.
Why would administrators choose this path if they know the importance of physical activity as it directly correlates to success in the classroom? Three reasons; 1: They simply are not convinced that there is a correlation regardless of the endless studies that date back far more than a decade; 2: They are too bogged down in politics as usual and are blaming poor performance on large class sizes and lack of parent and student engagement, and 3: Money. At last week’s board meeting we were told that the 3 million we would need to hire the proper amount of Phys Ed teachers to get us into compliance just isn’t there and we’re probably not going to get it.
I don’t know a lot about school budgets but I am a firm believer in a mentality of “there’s got to be a way.” I’ve been told by people at City Hall who didn’t know I was a parent that there is surplus each year in every department and they end up scratching their heads as they try to determine how to spend it. It’s time to find the money and build a foundation of wellness that embraces whole child, whole school, whole community.