Should School Recess Be Mandated By Law?

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A bill that would require New Jersey public schools to provide a minimum of 20 minutes a day of recess for children in grades kindergarten through five has been unanimously approved by the Education Committee of the New Jersey State Senate. From a statement put out by the New Jersey Senate Democrats:

“The legislation was sponsored by New Jersey State Senator Shirley K. Turner, who says it would aid child development by increasing cognitive skills, reducing obesity and bettering classroom behavior by ensuring all children receive some free play time during the school day.

‘Studies show that recess provides students with core skills needed to succeed in the classroom and in life. Not only does it help students develop cognitive skills, and teach them teamwork, cooperation and communication skills, but it also is essential for the health of our children,’ said Senator Turner, a Democrat and  Vice Chair of the Education Committee. ‘It is important that we stop thinking of recess as something that takes time away from learning in the classroom and instead as part of a curriculum that will help our students stay healthy, as well as develop important skills.’

According to a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation report, most school principals say that recess actually enhances the ability of children to learn in the classroom and improves academic achievement. The survey also concluded that nearly all principals surveyed believe that recess has a positive effect on the social development and general well-being of the child.

Unfortunately, many schools are taking away recess in order to focus on meeting academic standards and improving student test scores, according to Senator Turner. Forty percent of U.S. schools have reduced or eliminated recess, according to Childhood Education, the bimonthly journal of the Association for Childhood Education International, and high-minority, high-poverty and urban schools have seen even greater cuts into the children’s recess time.

A 2009 study of 11,000 eight and nine year olds by the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics showed those who had more than 15 minutes of recess a day behaved better in the classroom.

The bill also states that no student could be denied recess for any reason. Senator Turner notes that the practice of taking away recess as a punishment for bad behavior is actually counterproductive. ‘Much like adults need to take coffee breaks in the middle of a long work day, kids need playtime to concentrate on their afternoon school work. By revoking recess privileges as a form of discipline, we are removing the chance for children to play out their pent up energy and are actually perpetuating the bad behavior,’ said Senator Turner.

The bill now heads to the full Senate for approval. (Read more here.)

It’s amazing that it’s come to this—that we need to legislate time for kids to run around, play, and act like children.

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3 Responses to “Should School Recess Be Mandated By Law?”

  1. Al Meyers says:

    While recess and “play” is critical to a child’s learning environment (mind, body, spirit), I worry about mandating anything. You have to create incentives to change behavior, not force it in the form of mandates. It’s better policy to create the incentives, because play is critical to a child’s education.

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  3. Joyce Viscomi says:

    Unfortunately in this day and age of mandated state high stakes testing, recess has become something put on the back burner. Studies do prove that children learn and retain information better with opportunities for free play. Twenty minutes really doesn’t seem like enough time for an entire day, but it is better than no time at all. Brain synapses increase, and then drinking water after exercising actually improves student attention to task and ability to retain information.
    It is unfortunate that New Jersey has to mandate recess through legislation.

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