Bring Daily Recess Back

National Wildlife Federation Advocates for Policy Changes

01-29-2013 // Mary Burnette
Kids playing on jungle gym

Most adults remember daily recess as a time they were able to let off steam, exercise their bodies and refresh their minds. Today however, as many as nine million children (approximately thirty percent of elementary schools) get far less recess time according to a 2011 study by researchers at the University of Illinois. Worse still is the fact that schools with predominately non-white student populations are least likely to have sufficient recess periods.

The National Wildlife Federation is tackling this problem head on by launching their “Ranger Rick Restores Recess Campaign”. Ranger Rick of course is the beloved mascot of NWF’s award-winning children’s magazines Ranger Rick and Ranger Rick Jr.

Why Should We Care?

“Students are missing a critical part of their development when sufficient recess is withheld from their school experience,” says Allen Cooper, Senior Manager of State Education Advocacy for NWF. “If we want to maximize our children’s potential, critical recess time must be a regular part of their school day.”

National Wildlife Federation will be advocating the return of daily recess to our nation’s schools by working with state legislatures and state boards of education to implement policies that ensure recess for elementary students. This initiative is an integral part of NWF’s goal to get 10 million more kids outside over the next three years. Parents can also encourage their local school district to adopt a daily recess policy since all school districts throughout the country have the authority to do so. Only a few states (Connecticut, Hawaii, and Missouri) have adopted a statewide recess requirement.

What a Good Recess Policy Looks Like

NWF has published recommendations for a good recess policy which should:

  • Require at least 20 minutes per day of supervised recess
  • Be scheduled in addition to designated physical education and lunch periods, not as a replacement for it
  • Be outdoors, except for in extreme weather conditions
  • Be in a safe outdoor play area with play equipment
  • Provide access to a natural play area
  • Not be withheld from students as punishment or cancelled to make up for missed instructional time

What The Experts Are Saying

Leading child health and development organizations have recognized the importance of recess to a child’s physical, social, and academic development. The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement in December 2012 emphasizing that recess is a crucial and necessary component of a child’s development. The AAP statement says that “minimizing or eliminating recess can negatively affect academic achievement, as growing evidence links recess to improved physical health, social skills, and cognitive development.”

"Our school’s goal for students is that they engage in 60 minutes of outdoor physical play each day,” said Dahlia Aguilar, Principal at the Mundo Verde Bilingual Public Charter School in Washington DC. “Meaningful outdoor play and physical activity promotes character by developing students’ perseverance and fitness through physical challenge, collaboration, and shared experiences."

Recess Helps Academics Along with Other Benefits

Kids Jumping Outside

One of the unintended consequences of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 is that more focus has been placed on test results and less on the overall well-being of students. The assumption is that more time focused on test prep will help performance, but in fact, the opposite may be true. Today’s children are less physically fit, less able to concentrate, and less able to relate to others than previous generations. The effects are seen in the rise of childhood obesity, poor test scores, and negative classroom behavior.

There are other, less obvious, benefits to recess. It also provides children the opportunity to practice life skills such as cooperation, taking turns, following rules, sharing, communications, negotiation, problem solving and conflict resolution. Recess gives children access to the natural world even if it is just seeing the sky and clouds, feeling the sun, watching birds, or checking out worms on the pavement after a rain storm.

“Recess rejuvenates my student’s enthusiasm for learning while stimulating cognition and encouraging student success,” said Erika Jones, teacher at Forrest Hills Elementary School, in Atlanta.

Parents Can Play Important Role

National Wildlife Federation wants to bring daily recess back to America’s schoolyards. Parents can play a particularly important role by being strong advocates for recess at their children’s school. They can start by conducting a recess policy audit to evaluate a school’s current policy. NWF offers a variety of helpful recess-related tools and other resources at www.nwf.org/recess.

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