Posts Tagged recess
Published by EducationNews.org — Apparently we need the states to step in to prevent the disappearance of playtime in school.
Ask adults what their favorite subject in grade school was and often you’ll get “recess.” Yes of course, they also liked the science of erupting volcanoes, reading intriguing stories, and hopefully much more. But young bodies needs to run, play, and shriek. Many adults remember the palpable relief of being liberated from their desks. I am one of them.
You might think that recess is a given for little kids even into middle school. Actually, not so much. Elementary schools always claim to give recess, but researchers found that on a randomly-selected school day, only 79% had recess. Of those, 61% of African-American kids and 75% of other minority students had recess compared with 85% of white children. Merely 56% of kids in poverty were playing. Even at school, kids in poverty can’t cut a break.
An overview of the states show that few require recess. Individual districts can set their own policies. But the internet has pages and pages of complaints about not giving kids some time to themselves. We’re often compared with other countries who give their kids plenty of time off (and have longer, less pressured school days).
So it was with mild fanfare that Rhode Island’s Legislature managed to pass a bill that requires elementary schools to give kids at least 20 minutes of daily recess. Lest you think this new law would affect a mere handful of buildings, only 18% were already doing this, according to data collected by Recess for Rhode Island, an advocacy group. The data also shows that school play spaces are often inadequate and lacking equipment. Few schools have good indoor options. Recess has indeed withered.
How on earth did kids lose their right to a break?
Usually the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), 2001, is blamed for the incredible shrinking recess. Across the nation, school staff alleged that testing required endless test-prep that took time away from everything else. NCLB demanded that all students be proficient in English and math as of 2014 — a stupid, impossible goal.
Still, threatened with sanctions, schools shaved time off wherever they could. Any mom could have told you that tedious, mind-numbing test-prep wouldn’t produce sparkling results. And it didn’t. So maybe beleaguered schools were taking their frustration out on the kids. Everyone was having less fun; cutting recess just made it official.
But another factor at work might have been to use NCLB as an opportunity to limit kids’ freedom to be naughty at school. Many parents and teachers believe that free play leads directly to bullying, for example. But the Alliance for Childhood, among many others, have evidence that free play is precisely where and when kids learn social skills, including the need to curb aggression. If recess erupts with unwanted behavior, bad on the adults who aren’t monitoring the inevitable disputes that erupt among kids. Socially-savvy adults on the playground can distinguish between kids’ natural process of learning to sort out their differences and aggression that needs adult intervention. No one can learn how to handle their social world until they experience conflict and learn to respond to it both responsibly and effectively.
Punishing kids by benching them at recess is super controlling.
The original version of Rhode Island’s legislation, written by the recess advocates, prohibited withholding recess as punishment. Sadly, punishment is still the go-to technique for curbing misbehavior, even though a preponderance of evidence argues that punishment doesn’t work. Bad kids just get badder. But the original mandate was rendered toothless to accommodate those who complained that withholding recess was a valuable tool for managing behavior.
The bill now asks school staff to try other options first. Recess for RI’s data showed that fully 70% of the schools say they withhold recess for disciplinary reasons. So, specifically those kids who most need to run and shriek are parked along some fence, usually for all to see, as if that would motivate anyone to behave in the classroom.
C’mon, who doesn’t need a break in their day? Walking down the hall and having a chat with a co-worker is good for your mental health. Everyone needs a mental pause to perform at their best. Everyone needs to interact with others socially. Everyone needs some physical activity if only stretching. And children’s bodies especially are little dynamos.
Who have we become as a culture that the kids need the full force of state law to get 20 minutes off? Still, some recess-deprived kids will finally get a break. Thank God.
Published by EducationNews.org — Children are constantly in an upright position these days. They’re not moving nearly enough, and that’s a problem.
Angela Hanscom is a pediatric occupational therapist. A very worried occupational therapist.
And who are they, anyway? These therapists help kids (and adults) get over or mitigate the barriers to daily occupations — bathing, toileting, social functioning, gaining more independence — if they’re injured, developmentally delayed, or otherwise disabled. They help people on the autism spectrum interact with others. They understand how to teach a Down Syndrome child to take as much care of herself as possible.
Occupational therapists are also among the people who work with America’s 6.4 million kids between ages 4 and 17 who’ve been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD. That number has grown to 11% of the age group. We’re the only country to break double digits in this sad stat. Most countries barely make it over the decimal point. England, usually second after the U.S. in worst-in-the-developed-world social health statistics, has about 2.4% diagnosed.
So, among her other clients, Hanscom’s include kids who have the occupational difficulty of tolerating schools. Most are boys. Many have had their fidgeting calmed by medication, but they still need strategies for how to sit still all day and resist the noise coming from their bodies begging for movement.
While working in classrooms of wriggly kids, Hanscom started seeing what she thought must be physical anomalies among them. So she solicited others to help her conduct research. To their horror, they found “that most of the children in the classroom had poor core strength and balance. In fact, we tested a few other classrooms and found that when compared to children from the early 1980s, only one out of twelve children had normal strength and balance.”
A kid’s body is designed to train its own vestibular (balance) system.
Balance involves a sophisticated integration of sensory data — sight, sound, movement — that helps people control their motion, equilibrium and spatial orientation. Young bodies learn to regulate balance by moving in every possible direction. This is why kids like to play with speed, twirl until they’re dizzy and fall down, dance, jump, swing, skip. Their seeming physical madness is evolution’s way of helping a kid calibrate the physics of staying upright while walking, running, etc.
And the “core strength” Hanscom refers to is what the Pilates people often call the “girdle of muscle,” around the abdomen and the lower back. The core supports everything else that uses gross motor skills.
Ironic, isn’t it, that as people age, their core strength and balance are the two things that become universally weaker. And here we are creating a younger generation starting life with those weaknesses right out of the gate.
In the school off-season, Hanscom runs a camp, Timbernook, which for all the world looks like a forest kindergarten or nature-focused adventure playground. In other words, it looks like a place where kids can actually play. Not surprisingly, when ADD kids go to Timbernook, their symptoms disappear. They no longer have to battle the crummy feeling of being a constant nuisance to the teacher, because at camp their fidgeting is free to erupt into full-on thrashing about. ADD is considered a neurological disorder, but increasingly some of us believe that some kids’ bodies scream for attention so loudly that the noise ruins kids’ ability to concentrate for long. At Timbernook, kids’ bodies are finally learning a form of basic education that the very structure of regular school forbids.
What subject is so valuable that it’s worth sacrificing learning balance?
Picture a typical classroom. Consider what Hanscom says:
“The problem: children are constantly in an upright position these days. It is rare to find children rolling down hills, climbing trees, and spinning in circles just for fun. Merry-go-rounds and teeter-totters are a thing of the past. Recess times have shortened due to increasing educational demands, and children rarely play outdoors due to parental fears, liability issues, and the hectic schedules of modern-day society. Let’s face it: Children are not nearly moving enough, and it is really starting to become a problem.”
“Starting?” I dunno. That 11% statistic begs to differ.
Yes, schools are part of the problem. But schools are only a reflection of the larger society. Parents are absolutely insane for safety these days. They’ve heard the line that “sitting is the new cancer.” They know that clinging to electronics, indoors, for hours at a stretch can’t be good for kids. But… Even kids who are involved in sports tend to sit the rest of the time. They don’t work on cars, create pick-up games, build stuff or ride bikes to a fishing hole. They get a shot of activity. And then sit.
So while we fuss about nuances of Common Core, we stop children from learning the most basic things they’ll need to support their daily occupations. Drugs and therapy only mask the body’s biological need to cavort about. Is this really working for the kids?
Hat tip to Valerie Strauss for reprinting Hanson’s blog on her Answer Sheet.
Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist who also blogs about Restorative Practices and Restorative Justice. After serving on the Providence School Board, she became the Providence Journal’s education columnist for 16 years, and has written for many other outlets. As the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, she’s been building demonstration projects in Rhode Island since 2008. She analyses data and provides communications consulting on Information Works! and the RIDataHUB, through The Providence Plan. For more detail, see juliasteiny.com or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 24 Corliss Street #40022, Providence, RI 02904.