School Recess: Non-structured time important, say parents and educators

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Sarah McMahan, a Moreland Elementary School kindergarten student, said that swinging on the monkey bars is her favorite part of recess.

By JEFF BISHOP Special to Times-Herald (Editor's note: Jeff Bishop is a former reporter for The Newnan Times-Herald and covered education issues.) Eight-year-old Emily Williams, a student at Ruth Hill Elementary School, said that recess time is her favorite part of the school day.
"I hope my teachers won't read about that in the newspaper," she said. She explains that she enjoys recess time because "that's when we don't have to do any work." When many adults reflect back on their days as young students in school, it's likely that the time spent at recess that will come most vividly to mind. Local parent Julie Storey says she remembers her recess time at Eastside Elementary School in the 1970s was spent playing games like "Mother May I?" and "Red Rover." "I remember knocking over the brand new bird bath that was in memory of a student at Eastside," she said. "I thought I had broken it, but it just wasn't attached. I cried so much. Oh, and I remember baby birds in a tree near the old fence at Eastside as well -- some of us would sneak bread to them. I know those little birdies had some full little bellies. Oh, and turning flips over a black pipe that stuck out of a little red brick house near the playground. Fun times!" Storey said she believes recess is just as important for kids today -- perhaps even more important than it was 30 years ago. "Especially since they only have PE once a week now," said Storey. "My six-year-old son Charlie says his recess is too short." While students may be temporarily putting their academic work to the side when they race out to the playground, some important training is still going on, according to Terri Lassetter, principal at Newnan Crossing Elementary School. "We believe recess is important because it provides students with a time to socialize with their peers by playing and talking," said Lassetter. "Teachers encourage students during recess time to get along with each other and to work together as well, as this time provides exercise for the students by running and playing." School children who receive more recess behave better and are also likely to learn more, according to a large 2009 study of third-graders conducted by researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University. The study, published in Pediatrics, suggests that a daily break of 15 minutes or more in the school day may play a role in improving learning, social development, and health in elementary school children. But a 2005 survey conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics showed that while about 85 percent of children in public elementary schools still have recess of some kind, the number of recess sessions per day and the duration of the recess periods have been steadily declining. Since the 1970s, children have lost about 12 hours per week in free time, including a 25 percent decrease in play and a 50 percent decrease in unstructured outdoor activities. According to the American Association for the Child's Right to Play, many school systems have abolished recess since 1989, due to a number of factors, including safety and liability concerns, disruption of student work patterns, and the increasing pressure for additional instructional time due to rigorous performance standards such as No Child Left Behind. But in the Coweta County School System, recess still has its place. The Coweta County Board of Education allows for the scheduling of unstructured break time for students in kindergarten and grades 1-5. "Students in grades K through 5 in all schools shall have one fifteen-minute break each day," it is explicitly stated in the policy. In Coweta County, school principals, in consultation with their teachers, are given latitude to "issue regulations regarding the timing and location of breaks at each school." Breaks may be withheld from students for disciplinary or academic reasons if prior notice is provided to the students, according to the policy. "Recess is an excellent motivator for some students to encourage them to complete their academic work," explained Lassetter. "During recess time, if a student is causing conflict or hurts another student, the student can forfeit his time or some of his time to participate in recess for safety reasons. We believe it is very important to provide a safe environment for our students during the unstructured recess time." The Coweta school board's policy committee members met last week and discussed the section of the recess policy which allows schools to withhold break time from students for disciplinary or academic reasons as a part of the school's disciplinary procedures. Currently whether or not schools choose to do that is left to the school's leadership. "Of 19 local elementary schools, nine choose not to do that, and 10 do, to some degree or another," according to Dean Jackson, public information officer for the school system. "The policy committee discussed the issue, and decided not to change the current policy at this time," Jackson said. "It also asked the superintendent to invite feedback on the issue from school councils and School Building Leadership Teams in elementary schools over the next few months." Coweta School System Superintendent Dr. Steve Barker said that after the school board's policy committee discussed the issue last week, the members decided to make a recommendation to the full board to leave the policy "as is" this year.


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