What is Happening To Recess in Elementary School?

It seems “recess” might have been redefined somewhat these days. Where has recess gone? Should kids get longer recess in school? Has recess undergone too much of a revision lately? Has recess been disappearing in your child’s school? Is your child spending his or her recess indoors and on the computer instead of outside playing games on the playground, doing healthy physical activity?

I thought recess was synonymous with most all parts of childhood: peanut butter and jelly, laughter, bouncing a ball, swings and just having fun! Apparently not from what I am now learning. What is happening to recess in elementary school?

Daily physical activity is one of the things a child needs to grow properly. We like to know our children are happy and healthy and whether a child is in school in a public setting, privately, or at a home environment, it benefits a child to have physical play or activity time during the day, would you agree? Studies have shown this to be factual and you may agree just based on your own experience.

Many parents out there may not even know that their kids do not have recess in their school, regularly, for their particular class. You may think your kids go outside to recess every day (yes, I said outside in that sentence. Kids are being forced to have indoor recess nowadays instead of fresh air, outdoor recess. Call the school, see if your kids have outdoor recess. There is a good chance your child is among the growing number that does not go out to recess during the day and worse yet, you may not know. You have the RIGHT TO KNOW. You may find it quite enlightening to find out exactly what the recess schedule at your child’s school is. Challenge yourself to some homework for the rest of the school year and see how many days your child goes out to recess as opposed to how many days your child does not. Which is more?)

You may go about your day thinking your child’s class gets recess even maybe even once per week. You may have even been told that P.E. class is a replacement for recess at your child’s school. What, though, do you think is accurate? Technically, this may not be the right answer for your child, even according to your state and/or according to your health care provider*.

Children have socially physical needs in school that recess is designed to meet, this is a fact. It is sad that schools, who are there for the benefit of kids, would allow recess – a fundamental physical plus – to get pushed out of their system.

I feel compelled to write today. This has bothered me for a long time and I have started losing sleep over it. I am not trying to be upsetting, just express myself. I am not apologizing. I just love my kids very much.

After a CRCT meeting at my kids’ school yesterday, I asked another mother if she has noticed that our Georgia State school does not seem to have outdoor recess time on a regular basis. She said she has noticed this and she seemed uncomfortable by this. I am an outspoken person and I have battled within myself as to what to do with the lack of actual outdoor recess at this Georgia elementary school. This has been an ongoing problem at this school for years, starting with Kindergarten classes. I have mentioned my concerns to each of my kids’ teachers at the initial 9 week parent/teacher conference (at which time each teacher said, ‘yes, we need to take the kids out to recess more, we really do’). The teachers know something needs to change; they know there is something that they could be doing differently in their planning to see that recess could happen daily, see?

When I mentioned my concerns to the other mother after the meeting yesterday, another mother was standing there and piped in (the mother standing happened to be a PTA mom, I later found out) and said, “The weather was brutal in August and September and that would explain why the kids could not go out,” I’m thinking (?) It is now February so that seemed irrelevant and I could tell she was not a keeper in the conversational mixture. Then one of the women who was instructing during the meeting (an EIP instructor) came over when she heard the PTA mom – like a bee to pollen. She proceeded to launch into an explanation of the state’s assessments and how it is so rough on what is required of teachers, which I am sure is very true. The PTA mom and EIP instructor were in agreement with one another and I could see where this was going before it started. They were not really invited into the conversation, but, now it had begun.

The EIP teacher basically said the state assessments mean there are strict limits on the amount of time during the day that teachers have to take the students out to recess. This is a little confusing to me but ok, I let her continue. She told me there really is not enough time in the day for recess; that is not ok, but I let her continue. She said the state’s assessments are so strict that this school just absolutely cannot fail. She then told me, barely breathing, that this does not mean that the kids do not get any time that is free, I should understand. She said they can play on computers or do ‘centers’. For your benefit, ‘centers’ are activities where students can choose to do things freely in the classroom like on computers in a monitored fashion, while the teacher still has to watch them and see that there is no mayhem; still in a room with no direct sunlight and no space to run around desks and chairs…come on. This is a very pat and condescending answer for me. The brief conversation ended abruptly due to an emergency weather preparedness drill announced by the principal (funny, the kids got to get out of their chairs and do some physical activity – which entailed going and standing in the hall, silently, with their backs to the wall). How ironic.

The basic point is this: Who is caring for our children to see that recess time happens effectively at our schools? Who is delegating this job effectively? Is recess in elementary school still a priority? What do state assessments have to do with it? What about time crunches during the day? What could proper planning, the school principal, proper delegation and better use of resources possibly do to help? Are we all doing what we can to help a situation that only seems to be getting worse and not better – recess in elementary schools today?

At the Georgia elementary school my children attend, I have learned that the time that should be spent at recess each day is largely unmonitored by school staff. I was told that each teacher, each week, signs a recess checklist. So the teachers are signing that they are GOING OUT to recess, each week by the way, not each day. But who is monitoring this? Evidently no one technically, not to my clear understanding and satisfaction anyway. There is just a vague weekly, crumply checklist, and the teachers answer to no one for the CHILDREN’S daily time. The fault then lies with the principal. The principal needs to review the weekly recess list somehow and see who is monitoring the actual recess attendance. It is called delegation. It appears that there is a bit of laziness going on here in some way, somewhere. The children are slipping through the cracks and recess is getting pushed to the side.

Imagine if YOUR FREE BREAK time at work got snatched from you and you didn’t have any say in the matter. Would you try to maybe turn things around? I think you would, and in short order too. Because we are adults, we work toward a solution with other adults but sometimes we forget why our kids come home cranky. Maybe they didn’t get the break they DESERVED at school today. They are growing children. They deserved a break today and every single school day, whether they had P.E. class or not! It is called recess in elementary school – decent length recess time in school.

For the last two years, my children attended a different Georgia State elementary school due to where we lived (other than the school mentioned at the outset). It was excellent on a number of factors, recess being just one of them. I did not know how good I had it. My kids went to recess on time every day. I rarely remember either one ever missing recess; it was just never an issue. If they ever did, it made a point with them, as well it should. If recess is used as a discipline tool, which is discussed later, it should make a point, otherwise it is moot.

Last year, this other school raised money and in rapid fashion built a brand new playground. We had to change schools right as the brand new playground was built, and we were sad to leave that nice, shiny new playground. Now we have come to find out just how much we really wish we could have stayed at the other school. We did not know how much we would have missed that playground and how much we miss it now baby. You do not always get what you want, and life will teach you some hard lessons – that is just life. It’s ok for kids to learn that, and they all will eventually, no matter how hard we try to protect them. However, there is no reason for a school to have a horrible recess agenda, especially in the same county and state as a school who also has a perfectly good recess schedule; as I am sure many other Georgia State elementary schools do have perfectly good recess schedules.

Maybe you have thought some of these same things:

  • Ok so my child is now on a computer during ‘centers’ instead of running and playing outside?
  • What about when a child gets older and it is no longer “cool” to run and play outside on a playground?
    • Very soon it will be the thing to stand around and talk at free times, not play.
    • Then will it be too late! What about emotional issues with kids?
  • I have just wanted to reason logically; state some statistics about kids who do not play physically and what that does to them in school.
    • It labels boys as violent or ‘too physical’ in class when they are not allowed to exert at least some physical energy during school play or recess periods.
      • boys and girls both need daily physical activity – no exceptions.
    • what about kids with doctor-diagnosed conditions like ADD or ADHD and more.
      • would not the need for physical activity as a release during the day greatly enhance their school performance?
  • Communication
    • I have emailed both of my kids’ teachers articles with regarding the relationship with teachers and parents and kids (activity, labeling, involvement, etc.)
      • I want the school and the teachers to know I am a concerned parent not just a voice that should fade into the background.
        • Sure I am not ‘the state’ but isn’t this a SCHOOL? We should be looking out for the needs of the children, right?
        • It should not be just about meeting the demands of the state. Everyone is so afraid of them and meeting their criteria.
        • Are parents scared to speak up? Is it parents vs. state requirements? Should it be?
        • Do you ask your kids if they go out to recess every day?
  • The weather thing:
    • Is the weather ever a perfect and balmy 72 degrees with the humidity at 50%, barometric pressure and wind just right every day? Not likely.
      • Dress appropriately. Send home a note. Ever heard of a sweater or coat? It’s fresh air and exercise. Kids like it.
      • If they get hot, they can sit down and rest. If they get cold, they can run and warm up. Hey old fashioned but it’s worked for hundreds.
      • Sure, the weather gets more severe some days for the kids.
        • When it is really cold or really hot then let the kids run full tilt in the gymnasium on those days.
          • At least there are fans in a gym if there is not perfect a/c.
          • A school gym is usually somewhat heated too.
          • Kids are forgiving.
            • They will usually be ok with less-than-PERFECT air temperature but are they ok with less physical activity?
        • If it is raining really hard have a “rainy day recess” or alternative outdoor recess plan.
        • Hey, back in the good ‘ol days, there didn’t used to be air conditioning anywhere (ya it’s an old argument)
        • Kids can always use their new electronic devices to check the weather or how to dress.
          • You can text Google with “weather+ your zip code” to 46645 and they’ll spit back your weather report in nothing flat if you want to be high tech about it. Hey, the kids can know how to dress in the morning too!
          • Dressing for the classroom always makes sense – bring an extra layer then you’ll have one – or not – for the playground.
  • Missing recess for bad behavior: The class must be punished concept…hm
    • The is an age-old behavior-modification tool…punish the class for a misdeed, but daily?
      • One of my son’s classes cannot go out to recess on nearly a daily basis sometimes (in shifts) because, yet again, someone messed up. And it’s no recess yet again. Who knows what is done with that time…WHO CHECKS?
      • Effective loss of recess (showing consequences for choices)
        • At the other school, if students misbehaved, they still got to go to recess with everyone else, they just had to sit out and miss five minutes or more of recess – depending on their actions.
        • At the other school, if students did not turn in homework on time or at all, they had to sit out and complete their homework.
        • To me, these are much more effective teaching tools, since this allows.
          • the teacher to spend time outside with her peers (the other teachers of her grade)
          • the teacher to watch the students all at once.
          • the teachers to all watch out for each other and keep an eye on each other’s students.
          • the teacher to build respect in the eye of her students – an important and missing factor in today’s youth.
            • I think the reverse of removing recess altogether, especially repeatedly, does the reverse.
              • it adds frustrating behaviors, consequences and loss of respect to a child’s attitude toward the teacher.
              • all students benefit from fresh air and their peers and the consequences of their actions, good or bad (SOCIAL SKILLS)
                • this is part of learning.
  • Recess, or the lack of it, seems like it would have a gradual effect on student’s work habits.
    • A school would want to perform its best (this school seems to)
      • if so, would it seem reasonable to do what is possible to allow students what is within their right and good for them to perform at their peak and help them??
      • schools always talk about raising standards and performance and that is great but if they back up what they say, then when about doing it?
        • isn’t this one way to consider doing so?
  • The all-important subject of physical health in today’s youth
    • The more active kids can be, the better – and the younger we start, the better!
      • Obesity, diabetes, heart disease, these should be motivating factors in themselves – come on!
  • Just getting kids motivated among their peers is encouraging on its own.
    • Recess should be something to look forward to every day.
    • Time to be silly, run, play games by choice.
  • Recess is NOT P.E. class – it is social free time – it should not be a replacement!
    • kick back, relax, be physical and exert the body and grow the mind.
    • run it off (run off pent up energy) in a healthy way.
    • wouldn’t it be fun if, as adults, we could just get up and run off our pent-up energy when we felt like (or needed it)?

I am not a teacher and I do not purport to assume to have any idea how hard it is for the educational system to meet demands. It appears to be a very frustrated cycle, I can surely see that. I am in no way undermining what must go in during each nine week session in a school curriculum period, which I am sure is rough. However, if education looks at who it is they are in it for, they will see it is the child and no one else, really. Each child benefits, not hurts, from regular play on the playground at recess. It seems that could be worked back into the curriculum somehow folks. I reiterate again the above regarding the previous school my kids attended and their seemingly fine recess schedule. How is it that they were able to do it? A balance with regard to recess in school surely has to exist somewhere.

Like I said above, at this school, my son did not have what I consider real recess in Kindergarten. He did not have access to a playground, although one was very nearby. I assumed, like many parents out there may be doing, that my children were getting active, daily, social free play on a regular basis. He was going out on a blacktop for recess in Kindergarten at age five like a jailbird when he had done nothing wrong. He looked longingly at the pretty, shiny playground nearby and did not get to play on it. His teacher was sending home notes for requests of toys for the children to play on the blacktop with with at recess. The school has a perfectly good playground for Kindergarten recess.

Again, it appears that something is happening to recess in elementary school if there is not ‘enough time’ for a Kindergarten class to play on a playground. (I seem to remember the school day being exactly as long as it always has been, don’t you??) The state’s assessments, the principal…whatever it is needs to be reassessed. We should all be in this for the children and not make them feel the day is too cramped for them to have ten little minutes of actual play time when they deserve more than that. When I was a kid, I had two recess periods (one of 30 minutes and one of 15) and that was not that long ago.

It does not take much to help schools and their playgrounds. Just speaking for this one school, it has a blacktop for the Kindergarten class where the teachers take the students out to play when there is a playground nearby. Why the teachers cannot make it over to the playground, I do not know. Here again, someone may feel there is a time issue or something. The school has two perfectly good playgrounds but these little 5 year olds play on the blacktop. There is a playground that is suitable for smaller children but my son said he never got to use it while in Kindergarten at the school. The Kindergarten teacher asked me for donations of toys on many occasions so that the students would have something to play with on the blacktop. I just think it is sad that priorities have to be so messed up that the real importance of the school system – THE CHILD – gets mixed up and somehow lost in all of it. It is something very simple…recess. Why does it have to become complicated? I wonder WHAT the PTA is for if not the Parent’s and Teacher’s Association. Don’t they try to help kids? Who helps the kids try to get recess back from the creepy “state’s assessment” people who are so feared?

It has been said that Theodor Seuss Geisel or “Dr. Seuss” was the first real children’s advocate. With that in mind, whose voice should be louder, the voice of the adult or the voice of the child? If the children were allowed to speak, what would they say…would they say they would like a real recess every day? Would they say it is way too hot or cold out to have recess? At the beginning of the year, would they give up their right to recess for the guideline criteria of the state? If they were given a pop quiz, would they fill out the answers with the eventual result being yes or no for recess? Ask yourself: What would the child in your life say? Would you have given up your recess?

What were your playground memories? What should recess be about? Has recess changed in America? Should it really change? Have kids changed so much that their view of recess has changed? Did you have memories of playground issues worked out or fun times from your days at recess? I know I did and I want the same for my kids…every day they are at school. Every child deserves recess, I think.

No-Recess Policies Being Implemented in U.S. School Districts

Banning School Recess

Revamping Recess for Kids’ Fitness

Why Recess Matters

Why Recess Is Different from PE

CRCT – Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (the state’s assessments in Reading, English/Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, and Social Studies)
PTA – National Parent Teacher Association. Paid association.
EIP – Early Intervention Program: Helping kids who just need a little more. Those kids, in the state of Georgia, who score anything less than 800 on the CRCT test, may qualify for EIP.

This was written by ‘coffeebreath’ on coffeebreath.wordpress. com and no other. This blog has been hijacked by anyone who portrays themselves otherwise. If you see abuse, you can report it, which will be appreciated. Sorry about you having to read that.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. SM 2.29.08 @ 12:14

All trademarks property of their owners

* I am not a doctor and I do not make any claims whatsoever as such. Please seek the advice of someone in the medical field for all medical advice.


~ by coffeebreath on February 29, 2008.

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