Health

Recess Is Under Attack And These Parents Are Exercised

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In Florida, a fight brewing between parents and administrators hinges on whether elementary school kids have enough time on the playground.

About 23 elementary schools in Orange Country, Florida have recently cut back on recess, saying there’s not enough time in the school day as teachers are trying to juggle other academic priorities. Unhappy parents, meanwhile, have collected more than 1,200 signatures on a petition asking the district to reverse course. They presented the signatures at a school board meeting this week.

“Our kids were coming home tired, tired of sitting in desks all day, tired of instruction all day,” Angela Browning, one of the parents who attended Tuesday’s meeting, said. “They weren’t getting a regular day in school to run and play and be kids.”

School district officials aren’t opposed to recess in theory. They say they’re just struggling to fit everything in as teachers are working toward standardized tests. Particularly as schools switch over to new requirements under Common Core, officials say they’re concerned about having enough time to prepare students in the classroom.

“We will come to a place in Florida and probably nationally where we have to admit that we really don’t have enough minutes in the day to get everything done that we’d like to see accomplished for our children,” Barbara Jenkins, the Orange County Public Schools Superintendent, told TODAY.

The battle over recess in Florida has been building for several months. This past fall, parents and kids picketed in front of elementary schools — holding signs proclaiming “Recess Is What We Need” and “Recess: Don’t Let It Go!” — to push for statewide standards guaranteeing daily playtime.

As a growing number of public schools have cut back on recess to focus on academic pursuits, similar fights have been playing out in other states. According to a 2011 study published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, the vast majority of states don’t have regulations related to athletic activity in school. Most schools aren’t required to offer daily recess or send students to gym classes.

Educators and health experts are increasingly raising concerns about the trend, particularly in light of the rising rates of childhood obesity in the United States.

Research has confirmed that regular play can make kids smarter, more emotionally adjusted, and physically healthier. At the beginning of last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics officially endorsed recess, releasing a policy statement saying that regular playtime is “crucial” for kids’ wellbeing and academic success. The National Association for Sport and Physical Education takes a similar stance, recommending that kids should get at least 20 minutes of recess each day.

Advocacy groups like Peaceful Playgrounds and KaBOOM! are committed to keeping recess in schools, and have recently developed resources for parents who want to pressure their school districts to change their policies in this area. The “Right to Recess Campaign,” for instance, includes a community tool kit with talking points, presentation guides, and even models for successful school recess plans.

Legislators in some states have taken notice, introducing measures in Illinois and New Jersey to make recess a mandatory part of the school day.

Some of the kids in Orange County have made it clear that a shift toward mandatory recess would make them happy, too. A few elementary schoolers attended this week’s school board meeting with their families and spoke up for themselves. “Everyone in my classroom is like ‘Can we please have recess? Can we please have recess?'” one fifth grader said.